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Questions about Obama Center as residents seek to benefit from neighborhood changes

By Tariqah Shakir-Muhammad -Final Call Newspaper- | Last updated: Sep 11, 2019 - 9:29:49 AM

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(L) Protesters held a demonstration that blocked traffic. (R) Ebonee Green addresses media during a press conference at rally.

CHICAGO—Despite promises to have the city’s best interest, residents are still at odds with plans to build the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum near Jackson Park on the city’s South Side. Many are concerned that the city’s public housing programs and affordable housing stock aren’t substantial enough to protect Blacks who could face eviction as rents grow and gentrification increases alongside investment in the project.

Dozens of supporters and members of the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition gathered Sept. 5 near the project’s anticipated location to demand the city present its terms and conditions regarding housing protections.

“What we’re concerned about is that when they’re creating development, but they won’t create development that has a place for people who are not the wealthiest of the wealthy,” said Ebonee Green, resident of the nearby South Shore community and Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition member.

“We’ve watched what’s happened in Atlanta, we watched what’s happening in Detroit, we watched what’s happened in Oakland and San Francisco and we know what can happen when new things come into the city,” she said.

According to a report by the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement, in August 2019, 91 percent of the largest portion of renters in a two-mile radius of the Obama Center site cannot afford their monthly rent. South Shore’s eviction rate is at the highest of 1,800 a year and it’s about four blocks from the center location.

Prices of for sale housing have also risen and are rising faster than any other city since 2016.

“Where do you want us to go?” Mrs. Green asked during the rally and press conference shortly before supporters held a demonstration that blocked traffic. “I watched in 2001, 2002 and 2003—they made promises to people who lived in the projects about where they would allow them to live, where they would allow them to stay, and only the people who pushed back and demanded action and policy are still able to stay in their communities.”

“We know that the current residents of Woodlawn and South Shore are already at a point where rent is nearly unaffordable and so sometimes people will think, ‘Well, that’s not me,’ and we have this understanding that those are for ‘those people’ not realizing that the vast majority of Woodlawn and South Shore, people are just trying to make it,” she said.

Sept. 5 rally near the anticipated location of the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum.

“We are not making things up, we are not lab rats; we are absolutely serious and we are not going anywhere!”

She continued to say that only on fair grounds will the community accept the project’s development. This includes a community benefits agreement preserving 30 percent of all new developments for affordable housing. If City Council and the Cook County approve, property taxes would also be frozen.

“It’s not right, you gonna push us any way you want to push us to bring in more folks to make it White city again,” said Deneitha, who has lived in the city for years. She was among many at the rally who have seen residents being pushed out of their homes to make room for wealthier people or city projects.

“I’m hoping that they will see and work with us,” she continued. “I’m hoping that whatever we ask for, [they] work on it, let it go through.”

Tyrone Grant, from the city’s predominantly Black South Side said improving housing brought him to the rally. “It affects me. My friends told me about this and I came out on my own,” he told The Final Call. “I just came out to help them and get the public houses [built].”

“Ebonee Green said the city should hear its residents. “The word ‘policy’ comes from the word ‘people,’ and so we are the people; we have attorneys, we have educators, we have universities, we have organizers, we have people from the street, we have people from the top—we’re everybody. We’re organizing, we’re careful, we’re intentional, and we want this community to be for all of us not just a few of us,” she said.

The Obama center would cost an estimated $500 million, occupy public park land, close some streets and would be unprecedented scale for building on the South Side of Chicago. The project is expected to be paid for by private donations though the city is giving away land.