Rally near Obama Presidential Center site demands affordable housing for South Side residents

"They're already out asking people to sell their property," one concerned resident said. "That's not right."
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Some residents living near the site of the future Obama Presidential Center held a rally to express concern that this project will drive them from their communities and homes. Now, they're demanding assurances from the city about affordable housing.

"They are going to displace all of us that they can," said South Side resident Michele Williams. She said she was worried that she is going to lose her home.

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For decades, the 79-year-old has lived in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood, but is now afraid that gentrification will eventually mean her aging senior building located near the future site of the Obama Presidential Center will eventually be torn down to make way for more modern and expensive housing.

"They're already out asking people to sell their property," Williams said. "That's not right."

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She was just one of several residents and a coalition of community groups who joined together before Tuesday's groundbreaking to once again demand the city ensure affordable housing protections for their neighborhood and several others on the South Side.

"The gentrification process is already pricing us out," said Sharon Payne, with South Side Together Organizing For Power. "They're already building $750,000 homes over here next to home that sold for $25,000 and $50,000."

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With construction looming, the coalition wants safeguards for the South Shore, Washington Park and Greater Grand Crossing neighborhoods. They also want 52 vacant lots in neighboring Woodlawn already earmarked for affordable housing under a community benefits agreement to be identified.

"Be clear. This particular development will affect, have a ripple effect to Black communities around this center," said Shannnon Bennett, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

Those gathered said they are not anti-Obama, adding they don't want his library's legacy to be the displacement of thousands of low-income Black families.

Community organizer Dixon Romeo said that even before the pandemic, South Shore had the highest rate of eviction filings. He said the vast majority of people who live there are renters.

"This is the community that sent him to the White House. We should be the community that gets to stay and benefits from the presidential center," Romero said.

They hope to have some sort of agreement soon.
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