The foreclosure crisis, affecting more than 70,000 Chicago rental properties since 2008, the CHA “Plan for Transformation,” and other forces have accelerated the pace of neighborhood change and concern about gentrification. To be clear, the concern is not about repairing dilapidated properties; everyone wants that. Rather, the concern is about the physical displacement of poor and working class families. This concern frequently includes not only economic displacement, but cultural dislocation as well. For a graphic sense of neighborhood change in Chicago 1970-2010, see the UIC Voorhees Center’s Gentrification Index at http://www.voorheescenter.com/#!gentrification-index/ccmx.
Below the surface of gentrification linger questions about the proper ordering of our democracy, society and the integrity of its institutions. For example, should Pilsen retain its Mexican cultural flavor? Should transit-oriented development (TOD) cater to singles? Whose decisions are these, anyway? Is the pace and character of neighborhood change a “We the People” moment, or do we default to the “invisible hand” of the market? If an investor terminates the tenancy of a working class family without cause (yes, we still don’t require “just cause” to evict) from an $850-a-month apartment, puts in granite countertops, and then raises the rent to $2000-a-month, are we fine with that? This would displace a family making $30,000 a year in favor of one making more than $70,000. Where is the displaced family to go? The mounting nationwide concern about gentrification and the lack of voice in decision-making, has led to the maxim: “housing is a human right, not a commodity.”
LCBH is exploring the landscape of anti-gentrification work - as a component of affordable rental housing preservation and development - and has, thus far: recently formed a national working group on gentrification within the national legal services community; worked locally with an emerging anti-gentrification collaborative of neighborhood groups to stage numerous tenant education forums; conducted several trainings for private attorneys to advocate on behalf of renters facing displacement; and worked to promote needed policy initiatives such as the Chicago Health Homes Initiative and “just cause” for eviction.
Who has a “Right to the City”? Certainly those who work here and find their sense of place among friends, family, churches, and the schools of their neighborhoods. What is the meaning of this “right” and one’s sense of place if there is no place to live? The pace of gentrification is accelerating and the challenges are many.