What will the Obama center mean for the values ​​of neighboring Chicago?

South Shore in Chicago is at a crossroadswith a lot of vacancies, a preference for tenants and the near completion of the Obama Presidential Center, which is contributing to the increase in real estate values.

Now, frustrated by the city’s efforts, which they say are failing to prevent displacement around the Obama lot, a group of Chicagoans is trying to put a referendum on the Feb. 28 ballot asking for new housing protections for nearby residents.

A similar coalition won Woodlawn protection after a five-year campaign and lengthy negotiations with city housing officials. But organizers in the South Shore say they’ve been shut out, and that the first steps announced by the Chicago Department of Housing to help apartment owners in the area don’t go far enough.

Over the past few weeks, the South Shore Community Benefits Agreement coalition has been knocking on doors and asking voters to sign a petition calling on the city to “prevent displacement” of local residents with a long list of demands: funding for home repairs, increasing homeownership, providing property tax and rental incentives, introducing eviction protections, banning application and relocation fees, developing affordable housing on vacant city-owned lots, and creating local jobs programs.

“We hear things all the time from some of the current old folks, even the mayor, ‘People aren’t worried about displacement,’ or ‘displacement isn’t happening,’ or ‘this is the theater of displacement,'” said Dixon Romeo, leader of the CBA Coalition and Not Me We, a community organization dedicated to housing, organizational education and mutual aid.

The referendum, which the group is seeking to put on the ballot in 16 precincts, will help show city officials that concerns about displacement are real, “that it’s a priority for the South Shore and that we need to get it done as soon as possible.” with the center slated to open in the fall of 2025, Romeo said.

The coalition is circulating a separate petition asking residents of nearby Woodlawn whether the city-owned vacant lot at 63rd Street and South Blackstone Avenue should be “at least 75% truly affordable housing where working families pay no more than 30% of their income in rent — to ensure that residents can afford to stay in the neighborhood when housing costs are skyrocketing?”

The questions would not be mandatory, but supporters hope that putting them on the ballot and a yes vote will help sway precinct aldermen to take action. Long service Ald. Leslie Hairston, whose 5th District includes the largest chunk of the neighborhood, is retiring at the end of this term. Other aldermen with parts of the ward — Michelle Harris, 8th, and Gregory Mitchell, 7th — are running for re-election on the same ballot in February.

Brent Bradford, not shown, listens to Dixon Romeo during an affordable housing volunteer meeting on Oct. 22.

There’s been a loss of affordable rental space across the city, but in South Shore, the share of households with renters paying less than $900 (a key measure of affordability) has dropped 23% since 2010, slightly more than the city. The number of households with rent below $900 has fallen from nearly 12,000 in 2010 to about 8,000 in 2020, according to census data analyzed by De Paul University’s Housing Research Institute.

Meanwhile, home prices in the South Shore have risen faster than prices in the city as a whole since 2015, when the Obama Foundation announced that the center would be located on the South Side.

Between 2015 and 2021, the median sales price of single-family homes increased nearly 200% in the South Shore, but only 50% in the city, according to registered deeds of transfer tracked by the Institute. For apartments, that number is up 117% in South Shore, compared to 9% citywide. Median sales prices for two- to four-unit buildings rose 231% during that period in the South Shore and 67% citywide.

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That’s good news for current homeowners whose properties are now worth more, says Sarah Ware, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors. Ware has lived in South Shore for 15 years.

“It’s nice to see, ‘Wait, now I have a little equity?'” said Ware, who describes the neighborhood as a lakefront gem. “Many of my neighbors, our houses, are large developers. It has been disinvested for so many years that we hope the trend will follow when it comes to retail.”

Volunteer Bronwen Schumacher (left) talks with Lee E. Wren about an affordable housing petition on Oct. 22.

For their part, the city authorities say that they are actively working on measures to help the owners and tenants of housing. In July, the City Council created a new pilot preservation program that sought to help owners of South Shore apartments and co-ops at risk of being turned into expensive rentals.

The funding, which has yet to be approved by the City Council, is intended to help owners pay for deferred maintenance or get loans for repairs. Ideally, it would allow longtime residents, “many of whom are older and on fixed incomes,” to stay in their homes for an affordable price, the city said in a release.

Department of Housing spokeswoman Samantha Hill said the department has held “over 100 meetings” with neighborhood homeowner associations to fine-tune their governance to qualify them for loans. Nearly 150 units in 14 buildings in the neighborhood have been “stabilized or are in the process” of preservation through the city’s existing distressed buildings initiative.

As for the city-owned site in Woodlawn, Hill said officials expect to develop “broader mixed-use planning that will include affordable housing” in the area between the Metro tracks and Stony Island Avenue.

“The department sees this as a gateway to the Woodlawn 63rd Street corridor that is being redeveloped,” and the city will work closely with Woodlawn Central Development, the YMCA and the Mount Carmel High School campus, Hill said.

The City Council also recently approved the construction of several new affordable homes, and a proposal for a 33-unit affordable building is planned as part of the Thrive Exchange development. Hill said. The city has also provided pandemic rent relief across the city and is providing money for legal aid to those going through eviction proceedings.

But Romeo said the city didn’t act with enough urgency, especially to address the rent hike.

“At this point, the city has a long history of saying things and either not doing anything or doing the opposite,” he said. “We want to work with the mayor, the alderman, the Department of Housing to get a comprehensive housing ordinance that covers all the things that we put in our requirements that helps renters, condo owners and homeowners.”

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