Bronzeville residents trying to make a place for middle income families

While Mayor Richard M. Daley and the 2016 Olympic committee are trying to impress the world, some Bronzeville residents have a few thoughts they’d like to impress upon them: Don’t push us out of our homes.

Community members from the group Housing Bronzeville have put a referendum on this year’s ballot asking the mayor and the Olympic committee to set aside 26 percent of the vacant lots in their neighborhood for affordable homes.

Valencia Hardy, a leader of Housing Bronzeville, says all the planning for the Olympics has the potential to turn Bronzeville into a community that median income folks can’t afford to live.

“We’re not going to sit back and let Daley and the aldermen run rough shot over our community,” Hardy says. “We should have a say about what's going on here.”

Housing Bronzeville says their neighborhood has over 1,800 vacant city-owned lots, 26 percent of which they want turned into homes that middle income residents can afford to purchase.

The number comes from the percentage of median income families that used to reside in Bronzeville back in the 1980s. Since then, that number has dropped to only 13 percent, says Kenneth Williams, a spokesperson for Housing Bronzeville.

“I believe this area is slowly becoming the South Loop, meaning that there will be a lot of condos and high-priced homes,” Williams says. “The middle and low income people will eventually be totally pushed out. People who have lived here for generations.”

The referendum also asks home values to be calculated according to the city median income, a figure Hardy says is around $50,000, rather than by the Area Median Income, which instead takes into account the average income of the city and the six surrounding counties. That figure is close to $74,000, which Hardy says is a considerable gap for Bronzeville families.

“For the police officers on the street, the people who teach our kids, that staff our libraries – they can’t afford that kind of home,” she says.

The referendum is the result of a battle the group has been fighting with the city and local alderman for over four years.

The group put another referendum on the ballot in 2004 that asked residents to approve a .009 percent tax increase to create a Housing Trust Fund that would finance the building of affordable homes in Bronzeville. The measure passed with 85 percent of the vote, but Housing Bronzeville can’t get the aldermen in Wards 2, 3 4 and 20 on board.

“They’re not for it – period,” Hardy says. “They did say they would work to find a compromise, but so far, they haven’t.”

The group met with Alderman Pat Dowell, D-3, and Toni Preckwinkle, D-4, back in April. They say subsequent meetings on the issue have yielded no results.

Hardy and Williams say they’re still trying to make the trust fund a reality, but they’ve sponsored this year’s referendum to continue to press for affordable home ownership in the community.

Preckwinkle says she admires the group’s involvement in the community, but she doesn’t support the current referendum. She says much of her ward is already taken up by development by Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan For Transformation, which already has one-third of the units as affordable homes. 

“I’ve tried to do what’s possible, and they have an incredibly high standard which I think is unrealistic,” Preckwinkle says.

Of the 3,000 vacant lots that existed in Ward 4 when Preckwinkle was voted into office in 1991, she says 90 percent of those lots have been already developed or plans are in the works. Of the lots that remain, she wants market rate housing.

Preckwinkle also says it’s true that Bronzeville has been changing, but not because of the Olympic bid.

“They’re crying out against a wolf that is not at the door yet,” Preckwinkle says. “There’s been a lot of redevelopment in the area. That will continue to be the case whether the Olympics come here or not.”

Regardless of redevelopment, Williams and Hardy say they’re in Bronzeville to stay.

“When they take me out of here, they’ll take me out with a toe tag,” Hardy says. “I’m not going to let what they’re trying to do force me out.”