Bronzeville Community Alert


On April 30th, several prominent people met at the Renaissance Apartments at 37th Street and Wabash Avenue to alert the public about gentrification and the Chicago Housing Authority redevelopment in the historic Bronzeville community.

At the slightly attended meeting, people spoke on behalf of their businesses, churches and homeowner associations, discussing housing for poor and low-to-moderate income level residents, crime, and the rising cost of property taxes for their homes.

They discussed the up-and-coming businesses and new condominium development. They also questioned a CHA official about the public housing agency’s $1.6 billion, 10-year Plan for Transformation, then shared their visions for their South Side communities.

Local Business and Senior Concerns in the Bronzeville Area
Helen Fuller, who has lived in the community more than 50 years, spoke on behalf of the Bronzeville Merchants Association, a group of local business owners.

Fuller shared her organization’s concerns with the audience about who would work and be hired in the new business establishments after redevelopment of Bronzeville. But her main focus concerned how redevelopment would affect senior renters and homeowners in the community.

“We need to be right now talking to our seniors and our homeowners about holding on to the properties that we still have so that we will keep what we have in the community and try to build on it,” she said. “As you see these houses starting at $249,000 and up, people on fixed incomes, like myself, seniors, where are we going to live?

Fuller also expressed concern about senior homeowners.

“In 2005, the tax bill hits,” she said.

However, relief could be on the way. Shortly after the meeting, the Illinois Senate approved Mayor Richard M. Daley’s property tax relief legislation that will benefit “long-time homeowners, seniors and others.” The bill was initiated as a result of last year’s Cook County property re-assessments.

Senate Bill 2112 caps assessment increases at 7 percent per year and protects low-income homeowners by giving a $5,000 tax exemption to those with incomes below $30,000 if their assessments increased by more than 20 percent. The bill also protects long-time homeowners by increasing the Home Improvement Exemption from $45,000 to $75,000, according to information provided by the mayor’s office.

Grand Boulevard Homeowners’ Concerns
The current amount and the potential increase of crime due to CHA redevelopment was a major concern of the Grand Boulevard Homeowners’ Association.

The group’s spokesperson, Louis B. Outlaw, a commander with the Chicago Fire Department, said the association worried about the welfare of the single women homeowners.

“There are a large number of single females in our organization and they are concerned about their safety,” he said. Outlaw, a former resident of the CHA Altgeld Gardens community, said the homeowners were also suspicious about the way large numbers of condos were being built, especially those along Indiana Avenue.

He said some of GBHA members are now paying large amounts of money to correct defects, such as improperly installed electrical systems, of newly constructed condos that they were “lured” into buying.

New housing is also expected east of the State Street corridor, from 35th to 39th Streets, with the Illinois Institute of Technology playing a major role, according to Outlaw. There will be 14 new units of market rate apartments. And townhouses that are projected to start at $324,000 will be built at 46th Street and King Drive, he said.

Outlaw also mentioned that the homeowners were concerned about how the influx of people expected to move into the redeveloped areas would impact the current community residents, their quality of life, their property taxes and their children’s education.

Louis B. Outlaw, from the left, a member of the Grand Blvd. Homeowners Association, Carl Byrd, CHA director of development, Helen Fuller, member of the Bronzeville Merchants Association, Rev. James Moody Sr., pastor of the Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church discuss gentrification and redevelopment issues in the Bronzeville community in April at the Renaissance Apartments and Fitness For Life Center.

Unanswered Questions
Rev. James Moody Sr., pastor of the Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church, asked a lot of questions about employment and housing opportunities for low-income people under the CHA and city’s redevelopment plans.

What does it take to maintain the mixed-income communities, Moody asked. He also questioned what would happen if certain market factors, such as a rise in interest rates or employment conditions, drastically changed.

Moody captured the audience’s attention when he talked about his concerns regarding public housing residents currently living along the State Street corridor.

“Somebody was telling me that it costs $2,500 a month for an apartment in this district. Okay, what happens to the residents? Will they be able to stay there?” Moody asked. “Or will they find themselves somehow being pushed out into other areas?

“What about that person that is being displaced? Are we going to start pushing people out of the inner city into the suburbs? What about the housing crisis? Could there be a [depreciation] of suburban property? Will we be creating a situation where people who work in the city, can’t afford to live in the city?”

CHA’s response to the community concerns
Carl Byrd, the director of development for the CHA, talked a lot about retail business development at the meeting. But he didn’t have much to say about public housing residents, the people he is supposed to serve.

Byrd did say the reason why CHA is tearing down housing but not building replacement housing in a timely fashion is because the agency is currently working with the Department of Housing and the Department of Planning and Development to convince retailers and those that are franchising to invest into the Bronzeville community.

“What we’re doing is collaborating with the city as we tear down. We’re coming back, and the city, to its credit, is coming in first and putting in brand new sewer lines, brand new water lines and brand new power lines and encouraging others to put that infrastructure in before you start building,” he explained.

Byrd told the audience that CHA is having a hard time convincing retailers and other businesses to invest in the community where residents have been uprooted, because he said “the businesses want the people to be there first.” Byrd urged the listeners to help CHA in changing the mindset of the retail businesses by letting them know that land space is available and that a market of people still exists in the community to buy their products and goods.

“The entire community can help us along…We’ve got to send a message out that the market never left. It’s already here,” Byrd proclaimed.

Byrd also said it is going to take the community putting pressure on elected officials and the city to help them encourage business prospects.

“If our community is going to be viable, we deserve the same services and the same amenities that Lincoln Park has, that Beverly has, and that all of these other communities have,” Byrd said to the audience of primarily non-public housing residents.

Voices Crying in the Wilderness
Harold Lucas, a long-time community activist and former resident of the Ida B. Wells Homes talked about the preservation of the Bronzeville community on a historical level.

He said Bronzeville “is one of the Black Metropolis Historic districts,” and added that his organization is currently involved in the transformation of the historic Supreme Life property located on the corner of 35th Street and King Drive into a hotel.

At the meeting, Lucas also asked what the community’s plans were regarding transportation, especially in terms of how the Dan Ryan Expressway creates an economic base for the commercial corridors off the expressway. Lucas also wanted information about what the community was intending to do about the two percent of contracts with the Illinois Department of Transportation that were appropriated in the Black community to go toward the creation of jobs.

Also at the meeting was the former chairperson of the St. Louis Housing Authority, Pastor Donald Register. Register suggested that churches in the area fight to save the community.

“It’s time for the churches to get together and work together in this area. We have a Bronzeville business association, we need to have a Bronzeville Church Association,” he declared. “We have some people. And in place of money, that’s people. And people are power.”

Patricia Abrams, Executive Director of the Renaissance Collaborative, strongly suggested that the people of Bronzeville organize themselves to save their community from gentrification.

“We can be organizing ourselves so we can ask and petition the city give us these lots for land trusts,” she said. “I want you all to sign up because I’m going to send out information on when the community conference meets about the land trusts. Otherwise it’s not going to work….nobody is going to do the land trust for us. It’s not in anybody else’s interest.

“The plight of people leaving Bronzeville is just unbelievable,” she declared. “Soon you’re going look around and not know anybody in your community, because it’s going to be a new community.”

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