Demonstrators filled the streets of Jefferson Park in Chicago on February 21st. What were they protesting? Constituents of the 45th ward rallied against a new multi-family housing complex proposed for Jefferson Park in Chicago. Alderman John Arena announced a plan to build more affordable housing in Jefferson Park to address what he referred to as a need. The community is particularly angry about the affordable housing complex that is planned to be built at 5150 N. Northwest Highway. The plan is to build apartments that would rent 80 units below market rate and at least 20 units to affordable housing. Community members are concerned that by adding affordable housing units it would “bring the city’s surging violent crime into a neighborhood known for its relative safety.”1 Do affordable housing units actually bring the “city’s surging violent crime”? I think not. I do believe however that the 45th Ward’s sentiments are not unique and are simply a continuation of prejudice towards persons who receive housing assistance that has existed historically in Chicago.
In class we recently went over the Gautreaux litigation, the first major public housing desegregation lawsuit. The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were charged with concentrating public housing units in isolated African-American neighborhoods in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and the Civil Rights Act. Notably, most of the public housing units were built on the south side, and those that were built on the north side had whites only policies. Aldermen and Alderwomen played a significant role in preventing public housing from being built in their communities. The Supreme Court ultimately found for the African-American public-housing tenants holding that CHA and HUD were guilty of employing discriminatory housing practices. Although arguably not much has changed since Gautreaux, an increase in mixed-income housing developments have been built around Chicago. The idea was to integrate communities and prevent further segregation.
The question now remains whether prejudices and practices have changed as a result of the mixed-income housing development. I believe that the protest in Jefferson Park indicates that it has not. Jefferson Park is not the only Ward that has protested mixed-income housing. About a year ago Alderman Gilbert Villegas of the 36th Ward rejected plans for an affordable housing proposal by the same Full Circle Communities that Alderman Arena is currently working with. Villegas made his decision after his residents expressed “concern” that housing would attract crime to the area. Arena is now facing a similar battle. He has explained that Jefferson Park’s mixed-income housing units would be for people that already live in the ward, such as police officers, teachers, nurses, veterans, and those with disabilities. Arena himself recognizes sentiments that continue to exist in his statement that “he hopes community dialogue on the proposal would be based on fact and not prejudice.”2 For now Arena will have to face the prejudice of his constituents if he wants to make mixed-income housing available in the 45th Ward.
1 Alex Nitkin, Jefferson Park Housing Debate Draws Voices From Around the City, dnainfo.com (Feb. 22, 2017, 6:07 AM), https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20170222/jefferson-park/jefferson-park-affordable-housing-mixed-income-protest-john-arena