By Lynda Lopez
I was recently door-knocking on Talman between North and Bloomingdale Avenue. I was inviting people to a property tax relief workshop at the Humboldt Park field house this weekend. I started near North and Talman Avenue and immediately knew keeping the neighborhood affordable was a challenge far greater than what a property tax relief workshop could tackle. The first few residences on the west side of the street were relatively new condo buildings or single-family homes. Gentrification is well underway east of California Avenue.
As I made my way north towards the middle of the block, I encountered a middle-aged Latino man. I told him about the workshop and he expressed interest in attending. He said his property taxes had gone up by 10%, so I knew that this also meant that he had to be feeling the pressure to sell his home. I followed up by asking, “Have you received letters from realtors or developers wanting to buy your home?” He said he had received several offers and that the last one was particularly tempting. “They’re trying to get all the Latinos out of here, aren’t they?” he jokingly asked. After speaking to him, I thought a lot about what it means to have the “choice” to sell your home. My canvassing partner put it as “making a choice while having a gun to your head.” If you are constantly receiving letters and offers to sell, in addition to facing tax increases, you may feel that selling is the only recourse. How is this a fair choice?
I continued moving north on Talman and reached the west side of the 1700 block. Most of the first half of the block was comprised of newly built residences, single-family homes, or renovated houses. The few older homes looked out of place surrounded by their new, pristine neighbors. A Latina woman in one of the older homes spoke to me about the changes in the community. “When I arrived here, this was a dangerous area, but it was so cheap. Now that it’s better, they want to get rid of all of us [Latinos],” she said. Though she has no plans to sell anytime soon, she did say that she might be forced to if her property taxes keep going up.
Finishing up my turf near Talman and Bloomingdale, I came upon one last Latina woman. She enthusiastically agreed to go to the tax relief workshop. I took this as an indication that she feels invested in staying in her home, but I was wrong. “I want to appeal, but am most likely selling in the near future,” she said. “Property taxes keep going up. The cost of living here is too high.” She offered an anecdotal glimpse to the neighborhood’s change, “There used to be so many Latinos on the street. Now you can count them all on one hand.”
I left my canvassing shift feeling slightly disillusioned. The area I walked on Talman already seems to have become too unaffordable for most working-class residents. Every Latino homeowner that I spoke to gave indicators of possibly selling because of a) constant offers to buy and b) property tax increases. There is little hope to retain the diversity and affordability of a community when most of the previous residents have sold their homes.
Though I heard the familiar tale of unaffordability through property tax increases, a deeper feeling of alienation was apparent in the midst of the tangible financial reasons to leave the community. If you live in a community for decades and slowly see all your friends and neighbors leave, that must send a strong message to you that you are no longer welcome there. At that point, the morale to put up a fight against the changes may be very low. Gentrifying a community has the dual impact of creating financial and social barriers to inclusion for working-class residents. This was clear in all the conversations I had with the few Latino residents on those blocks. My comfort at the end of this canvassing day is knowing that the realtors and developers are not the only ones in the homeowners’ ears now.