As Mayor Brandon Johnson closes out his first week in office, Chicagoans are closely watching this new era unfold. In the city’s Latino communities, public safety, the cost of living, job opportunities, schools and environmental justice are at the top of the long list of issues people are hoping to see the new mayor address. Organizations in those communities say they’re as ready to work with Johnson as they are ready to hold him to his word.
Jackson Flores of the Pilsen Chamber of Commerce and co-founder of DishRoulette Kitchen said for small businesses, the big barrier Johnson can address up front is access to capital.
“This is a trickle-down effect that affects small business, which ultimately affects the communities where these businesses are found because it’s an ecosystem,” Flores said. “And I think we need to see more inclusion for small business, and this just creates a pathway for change in all different facets of industry.”
“It’s really going to be about aligning himself and creating a team that’s going to actually carry out the action, right?” Flores continued. “I think he did a lot of really great work in the press and the leading up to the inauguration and meeting with a lot of local organizations and activists, and he’s done a lot to prove that he knows where to go. Now it’s going to be about action.”
In Gage Park, Antonio Santos of the Gage Park Latinx Council said the needs that already existed in his community also exist for recently arrived migrants.
“Cost of living, inflation, spaces for young people to enjoy themselves and be safe are definitely a top priority,” Santos said. “We see that people are still trickling into the Gage Park Latinx Council Cultural Center. Last week, we had 15 people come in looking for housing resources and support that haven’t come to fruition quite quick enough. I think if we’re going to call it a crisis, we need crisis response and we need immediate needs met, which is housing, food and safety for recent migrants.”
Norma Rios-Sierra of Palenque LSNA said that in Logan Square, which has seen housing prices soar, affordable housing is among the big concerns for residents.
“We’re looking at a housing crisis, immigrant crisis and our schools are lacking funding,” Rios-Sierra said. “So, I mean, we’ve been doing this work for a long time and we’re just really excited to do the work with someone who’s going to be supportive of it. We’ve brought up a lot of initiatives that have really helped us hold back the gentrification and the displacement that we’ve seen, and we just need to see continued support. That 606 ordinance needs to stay in place. We need to increase the percentage of affordable housing units that are built with every new development. And there’s so many other ways that we can help that we just need someone in place that’s willing to champion those new initiatives or those different ways of helping our families with housing. We have a community land trust to help people buy affordable homes. … That needs continued support.”
Santos said he finds promise in Johnson’s stated intention to reopen shuttered city mental health facilities.
“I think that it’s a step in the right direction,” Santos said. “It was a complete miscarriage of justice when Rahm Emanuel closed these clinics, and we know that the Cook County Jail became the largest mental health provider for our city. But I would love to see Johnson’s plans to expand upon mental health. We know that six clinics for the city of Chicago is not enough. I would love to see what mental health support looks like in CPS schools for our students so that we can really address root causes of problems before they become issues that we try to solve with more policing.”
Rios-Sierra agreed that a holistic approach to improving public safety is how she would like to see the Johnson administration proceed.
“I genuinely feel that this is about us just leading with love and really embracing community care,” Rios-Sierra said. “Our youth really are struggling right now. And I really think that the key is to embrace our youth. Offer them more opportunities, offer them more work, open our schools, make all of our schools community schools really to be able to embrace the family as a whole and to get to the resources that they ultimately need to be able to reach their potential.”
Despite the challenges, Flores said the people in her community are optimistic about the city’s future.
“People are willing to do the work,” Flores said. “They’re willing to lean into the administration. They’re open. And I think a lot of that comes from grassroots organizations that are creating that dialogue and bringing people in. We sat down with the mayor-elect for a community round table and it was business owners for the last 40 years in Pilsen, community leaders, owners. And it was beautiful to see, but it was even better to see people that don’t normally get the chance to vocalize their needs have that opportunity. I think that’s a great sign.”