Pilsen Guards Against Gentrifyers


On April 26, 2005 the Pilsen Alliance and the residents of the Pilsen community held a press conference in front of the now defunct Lerner Box Company, an industrial building on 16th Street and Carpenter. They were marching, picketing and protesting the Lipe Property Company. If you were anywhere near 16th and Carpenter that Tuesday night, you would have heard the shouting and chanting voices of men, women and a lot of young people, bellowing these words of protest: “Familias Si, Condos No” (Families Yes, Condos No).

Michael Florez of the Pilsen Alliance

There were six resident representatives and speakers at the rally. The first speaker was Alejandra L. Ibanez, Executive Director of the Pilsen Alliance and a neighborhood resident. Her entire speech was done in Spanish. The participants responded to her comments favorably.

Pilsen is a largely Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant community on the near Southwest Side of Chicago. Many residents are worried about gentrification of the community as new, wealthier people move in.

The debate about development in Pilsen is intense. At a meeting about the Lerner Box condo development held in Las Americas meeting room on February 16, 2005, the 25th Ward Alderman, Daniel Solis, challenged one of his critics, Victoria Romero, to run against him in 2007. At the Lerner building protest in April, Romero continued to criticize how the neighborhood is changing.

This is what Romero had to say in April. “I’m Victoria Romero. I am a life-long Pilsen resident. My family has been here in Pilsen for 50 years.”

“[Y]ou see behind us…a building that used to house the Lerner Box Company. That’s now in the process of being developed into a luxury condominium. Luxury condos that Mr. Lipe said are 21 percent affordable. But, my question to you and the entire city is, ‘Affordable to whom?’ Who is going to be able to afford these buildings – not me and definitely not you.”

Romero gave a brief history of the “Pilsen Is Not For Sale Campaign.” She said they organized a ballot referendum in March 2004 to make the development and zoning process in Pilsen transparent. She said 96 percent of voters approved the referendum.

“We want to be part of the development in our own neighborhood. We should have some say on what happens to a building like the one behind us,” Romero said. “The cost of the renters, cost of the homeowners because our property taxes are going up will force hard working families, Latinos as well as non-Latinos, out of Pilsen.

” According to a “Pilsen Is Not For Sale” campaign flier, most of Pilsen is still “predominately working class immigrant families,” despite the tax increment financing (TIF) districts, the development of University Village adjacent to the neighborhood, and escalating property tax increases in East Pilsen. The main concern now is the high end condos. Developer Steven Lipe calls the Lerner Box project “Chantico Lofts,” with units costing at least $250,000 to $350,000.

The next speaker at the April rally was Rocio Krevesky. She and her husband have been residents of Pilsen for more than 35 years. They own two buildings there.

“With our two buildings, we try very hard to keep the rents low. Lipe condos are really bad for our neighborhood because people will not be able to pay if we have to raise their rents,” she said. “Real estate taxes are getting too high, and people will not be able to live here. We must get together and get rid of this man. We love this neighborhood. We are going to fight to keep it.”

Amy Decelles, one of Pilsen’s newer residents, expressed her opinions and concerns. “I just moved to Pilsen from Uptown where my daughter and I lived for years. Like Pilsen, Uptown had its good qualities and its bad qualities. Like Pilsen, you would have to live in the community to understand it. Like Pilsen, the developers set their sights on Uptown because of its location. That’s all they care about is location. Everything in our old neighborhood is crazy. There seem to be more condos than rental housing.

“Most of the rental houses [in Uptown] are too expensive for most working people.”

Another Pilsen resident who spoke was Rebecca Rubio.

“We are passing these little blue cards and all it simply states is call the Alderman and tell him ‘I am against the Lipe proposal. Do not rezone this building. We do not want it.’ Tie up his line. If everyone here calls and has their family to call, it will tie his line up.”

There’s one man along with his family who resides in Pilsen who doesn’t share the same views as the condo rejecters. He thinks condos coming to Pilsen is a great idea. Manuel Jasso, a storeowner in the community, said “I think it’s a good thing they are coming. Because it will bring and invite a better class of people into the community, instead of having all those gangbangers and what is called wino people around. A lot of them hide out in old abandoned buildings or they rent for cheap prices. They just drink and do all kinds of stuff. In those condos they can’t do that, because they cannot pay the rent.”

Jasso was asked if you bring in those expensive condos, won’t that force people to move out of Pilsen? “That’s not forcing them out. There’s a lot of options. Why don’t homeowners fix up their properties and raise the rents.”

Jasso was asked if you bring in those condos won’t that make the property taxes go sky high and that will make homeowners raise their rents? “That would give help to the homeowners to repair their building. In Pilsen, you have some cheap apartments with holes on the outside and all kinds of leaks. You can’t charge high rents, plug this, plug that and windows are like air conditioners year round. The heat is in disarray. If you don’t fix it, you’re not going to have anything. The condos would uplift the neighborhood.”

Michael Florez, the host of the press conference, asked the participants to send a strong message to Alderman Solis.

“Do you work for Daniel Solis? Or does Daniel Solis work for us? He works for us,” Florez told the crowd.

On that note, the group started marching and chanting “Familias Si, Lipe No” (Families yes, Lipe no) again.

After the press conference, I interviewed Michael Florez. He had a few comments he wanted to express.

Residents’ Journal: If you stop the condos from coming in, what are you going to do with this building?

Michael Florez: Well, if the residents of Pilsen get their way, we’d like to see maybe a community center or affordable housing. The Pilsen Alliance is not against projects in our community. What we would like to do is be a part of it.

RJ: Have you talked to Alderman Solis?
MF: I personally have not talked to the Alderman, but I can see his stance when he doesn’t answer. For a month and half, we have been contacting his office to ask where are the building permits? Why is there construction going on? Whereas the average Joe like yourself and myself trying to fix up our houses and somebody drops a dime on us and says ‘Hey! There’s illegal construction going on at your house. You don’t have a permit.’ The inspectors will shut you down. They will put a big bright orange tag on it. But it didn’t happen in this case.

RJ: Tell us about the R-4 and R-5 zoning.

MF: Right now [the Lerner Box building] is zoned R-4. All that was done way before my time. I believe it was done back in the ‘30s. At that time, our city wasn’t that big. It was thriving but it wasn’t as big as it is now.

RJ: Under R-5 zoning, will that give you permission to build condominiums?

MF: Under R-4 zoning [the Lipe Company] still can make condominiums, but he won’t be able to make as many. If he stays in the R-4 rating, he will be able to build about 20 condos. If it goes to R-5, he can build 40 or 50. It will give him more room to expand at the expense of the community.

RJ: With the condos coming, won’t that elevate and improve the quality of the community? MF: We are for quality but not at the expense of hard working class citizens, whether they are documented or undocumented. You know the Alderman has said the undocumented people do not pay taxes. That’s the farthest thing from the truth. When they buy gasoline, bread, milk and when they pay rent. That rent money doesn’t necessarily go into the landlord’s pocket. With that money, he is able to pay his property taxes. They pay their taxes on phone, utilities, lights.

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