Woodlawn residents share affordable housing concerns with city officials

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Chicago Department of Housing held an open house on January 30 for Woodlawn residents to speak with city officials and neighborhood activists about affordable housing.

Many long-time residents who spoke to ABC 7 said the city needs to take account of the level of poverty and low household income before defining "affordable housing."

Venus Scott is the new director of Woodlawn East Community and Neighborhood, or WeCan, a 40-year old neighborhood advocacy organization. She said that the average household income in Woodlawn is around $20,000.

"Affordable means being affordable for the poor, the working poor, the working class, and middle class," Scott said.

The pending construction of the Obama Presidential Center has driven much of the concern over affordability and gentrification in Woodlawn, as well as the surrounding South Side neighborhoods of South Shore and Hyde Park.

Woodlawn Alderman Jeanette Taylor (20th district) vowed on February 5 to oppose the mayor's latest plan for the Obama Presidential Center construction, saying in a news conference, "This plan doesn't protect anyone."

But Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara believes that community partnerships and collaboration could help curb displacement.

"Everyone who lives in Woodlawn now should be able to stay in Woodlawn," Novara said. "And I think we can do that if we're being proactive, working closely with community leaders and their elected officials."

While building a neighborhood development proposal, Novara helped coordinate a community task force with local activists, nonprofits, and religious organizations.

The commissioner is proposing new policies that expand rental dwelling units for homeowners and greater tenant protections for renters. Novara is also prioritizing what she calls "transit-oriented development" around major transportation hubs and the construction of affordable units on vacant lots.
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