By Lynda Lopez
Every morning as I bike down Palmer Street going east towards the blue line, I notice changes; houses for sales, luxury single-family homes being built, and a demographic change in the people walking around. One house caught my eye over the last few weeks. I started noticing signs around it, which seemed to indicate future renovations. I kept passing it every day, noting little changes to its exterior. One morning this week, I passed by and was astonished to see it had been demolished, certainly to be replaced by a luxury home. It was a crude realization that gentrification is spreading to the western edges of Logan Square and it’s happening at a rapid pace.
I continued to bike that morning and felt a wave of frustration. I thought about the 1st ward alderman Joe Moreno who touts the affordable housing he brings into the ward but is introducing a far greater amount of luxury housing, perpetuating the speculation and rapid gentrification of Logan Square. Using the guidelines of the Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO), even with its recent changes, as the basis for making a community affordable is not enough. In a recent article about the changes to the ARO, Marisa Novara, director of housing and community development at the Metropolitan Planning Council, stressed that “reforming the ARO isn’t a silver bullet for the city’s housing problems. In a 100-unit building where 10 percent of the units have to be affordable and only a quarter of those have to be built on site, that means only a few affordable units.” Approving several luxury towers along Milwaukee Avenue and saying it’s good for affordability because of the 10% affordable units included in each is making it clear who the priority really is in the neighborhood.
In the midst of the challenges and frustration with local elected officials, I find motivation through the work I am involved with in the community. With the 606 opening this summer, residents brought up fears of gentrification and rising property taxes. Grassroots Illinois Action-Humboldt Park Area and Logan Square Neighborhood Association subsequently launched a campaign to address these concerns. We collaborated with community groups and the Cook County Assessor’s office to hold two large property tax relief workshops for residents in Humboldt Park and Logan Square living between Western to Pulaski from North and Armitage Avenue, the area immediately surrounding the 606. We door-knocked that entire region and held two workshops with over 400 residents attending both.
The coalition is now in the midst of determining the next steps for our campaign. This weekend, we are hosting our gentrification assembly for community members with breakouts focusing on rent control, teardowns/condo conversions, property tax abatements, and vacant lots. Attendees will also be able to listen to a presentation on the history of gentrification and displacement in the near northwest side. Through our event, we hope to start identifying a platform for a forthcoming policy campaign on gentrification and affordability. Despite the challenges our communities face, there are residents ready to imagine a better future than one that perpetuates our city’s segregation and displaces working people from the city center.