Humboldt Park tenants win fight to keep affordable housing, but gentrification concerns linger

Like many areas facing gentrification, rents and home prices in Humboldt Park are rising.

A group of renters in the Northwest Side neighborhood has been fighting for months to stay in their homes, and they've finally found some success.

RELATED: What is affordable housing?
The win comes as they watch the community they've lived in for most of their lives change before their eyes.

Paseo Boricua in Humboldt Park, known for decades as the center of Chicago's Puerto Rican community and culture, is capped by steel flags at either end of Division between Western and California avenues.

There, Andriana Vera and the other tenants in her building played loteria and celebrated a win.

"We're feeling excited because we're definitely going to be staying there for some time. But definitely the fight isn't over," Vera said.

She and the other renters in their building won a legal fight that started in 2019 to keep their homes Section 8 affordable housing. They can now afford to stay where they live.

RELATED: Affordable housing resource guide

But that win may be the exception, not the rule.

"In the beginning this was predominantly a Puerto Rican neighborhood," said Cafe Colao Owner Wanda Colon, who has run the coffee shop on division for nearly 20 years. "Within the past 10 years I will say that my customer base now has shifted. Where I have 50 percent American, Caucasian, and the other 50 percent still Latino, not predominantly Puerto Rican."

Community research from UIC's Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement bears out the fact that gentrification, defined as affluent outside investment, in Humboldt Park is driving up home prices and driving out longtime residents.

"So you have families now where their income hasn't gone up but their taxes have gone up," said Voorhees Center Co-Director Janet Smith. "And so they're struggling to be able to keep that home and they make decisions on where they can move, maybe say 'I can't stay.'"

Many Humboldt Park residents said investment in the community isn't a bad thing. The problem is when million dollar homes and luxury apartments and condos price out the residents who have been living there for generations.

"There's no more vacant lots and they're all taken over by half a million dollar homes or condos. It's not for us," Vera said.

According to Smith, some potential solutions include giving tax breaks to long-time residents to counteract those rising property taxes, potential tax breaks to landlords who keep their rents affordable, and rent stabilization laws tied to inflation to keep rents from rising astronomically and quickly.

"I don't want to have to be in 20 years telling my daughter, 'I used to be in Humboldt Park, that beautiful place up north that's now just full of beautiful houses and we cannot live there because we can't afford it.' I want to be able to be here and show her what I grew up with," Vera said.
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