The proposed 20-acre Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park is raising new concerns. Some community members fear the estimated $500 million project could push up property values and taxes and squeeze out lower-income residents.
“I’m very happy about the Obama Presidential Center coming,” said longtime Woodlawn resident Linda Tinsley, a member of South Side Together Organized for Power (STOP). The community needs upgrades, Tinsley says, but some residents are “very afraid of displacement and gentrification.”
“Many people aren’t aware that the median income in Woodlawn is $25,000,” Tinsley said. “A couple hundred dollars a month rent increase means some people can’t afford to live here anymore.”
Tinsley is also a member of the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, which has been pushing for a guarantee that the neighborhood will be protected from gentrification through a written Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). The CBA proposal includes larger percentages of affordable housing within a 2-mile radius of the Obama Center.
“I don’t want to be an obstacle to the Center’s success,” Tinsley said. “But I’d love for the Obama Foundation’s people to sit down with us and have a conversation about this. When we brought the idea of a CBA to former President Obama to sign off on, he said no. He hasn’t sat down and talked to people about it. That would have been the thing to do.”
Ald. Jeanette Taylor, whose 20th Ward includes the area around the Obama Center, has also been a strong supporter of a Community Benefits Agreement. On Wednesday, she and others spoke out, criticizing the Lightfoot administration for its latest effort to reassure the community that it will be protected.
“I was under the impression that Mayor Lightfoot and the Housing Department would take our CBA and tweak it and come back to us, and we’d work together on creating a CBA that made sense for all parties,” Taylor said. “So I was doing my best to work with all the parties, to get everyone, including the University of Chicago, to sit at the table together to work on this. While politically we might disagree, for the good of the community I felt we needed to sit down and work these things out.”
However, the city’s release last week of its own development proposal, the Woodlawn Housing Ordinance, left Taylor frustrated. “I’ve been waiting around for the Chicago Housing Department to come back to me with their revisions to the CBA. But instead, they basically wrote their own ordinance. I felt like I was taken advantage of and not listened to,” Taylor said. “I didn’t want to believe that it’s business as usual. But now that’s exactly how I’m feeling. I was warned by residents, but didn’t want to believe it. Historically, Woodlawn hasn’t been listened to. We haven’t had a seat at the table. I’m an organizer, not a politician, and I’m a new alderman, so I don’t know exactly how everything works. But I won’t let them take advantage of me or my constituents.”