Antonio Gutierrez wasn’t planning to be a housing activist. In 2012, he graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology with a degree in architecture, but his status as an undocumented immigrant prevented him from working. He started organizing with immigrant groups, volunteering for two years with the Immigrant Youth Justice League and Organized Communities Against Deportations. Earlier this year, Gutierrez had a choice to make when he received a work permit. He could either follow his original dream of becoming an architect or continue with the organizing work he loved.
After suspected serial killer Darren Vann led police in Gary, Ind., to the bodies of six women that had been hidden in vacant houses, many journalists called attention to the problem of urban blight, which has hit Gary particularly hard. City officials estimate that there are 8,000 vacant houses in Gary, about one out of every five houses in the city sitting empty. Ten Chicago neighborhoods have vacancy rates higher than Gary’s. In Riverdale, home of the dilapidated Altgeld Gardens and Phillip Murray housing projects and many abandoned factories and warehouses, 45 percent of houses are vacant, according to the 2010 Census. Six other neighborhoods in Chicago have vacancy rates at or above 25 percent: Fuller Park, Washington Park, Woodlawn and Englewood on the South Side, and North Lawndale and East Garfield Park on the West Side.
Following a $3.3 million federal cut in funding for Chicago’s homeless population, a local group wants the City Council to consider increasing the city transfer tax to support services for the homeless.
“Logan Square for all,” a crowd of 100 protesters chanted. “Logan Square para todos!” The chants were among the demands shouted during a rally and candlelight vigil organized as part of an effort to keep open The Milshire Hotel, a single-room occupancy residence in Logan Square.
Thirteen aldermen have introduced an ordinance to increase oversight of the Chicago Housing Authority as pressure mounts over continuing revelations of the agency’s hoarding of resources and failure to provide housing. Meanwhile, evidence of the need for local oversight mounts. HUD has put a hold on the proposed swap of CHA land at the former site of the Harold Ickes Homes for an athletic field for Jones College Prep because CHA did not consult with residents on the disposition of the land. At a news conference Wednesday, council members expressed outrage that in an era of budget constraints at every level of government, the CHA has accumulated a cash surplus of $432 million and failed to distribute tens of thousands of housing vouchers, while leaving thousands of units unleased and slowing construction of new housing to a virtual standstill. “How dare they!” thundered Ald.
It’s too early to predict the impact of Amara Eniya’s mayoral candidacy. The 30-year-old municipal consultant seems to have generated enthusiasm among some young activists. Progressive political pros I talk with don’t give her much chance. But in a recent talk with Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times, Eniya raises a crucial point — something no one else has brought up. It’s a subject she also raised when I called her a few months ago, before she had announced her intention to run; someone had suggested talking with her when I was asking around about progressive revenue ideas.
Activists are calling for more aldermanic oversight of the Chicago Housing Authority amid a new report that found the agency has squirreled away $432 million in federal money during the past five years.
Advocates for the preservation of single-room occupancy buildings earned a small victory today as the City Council unanimously passed a moratorium on permits for demolition or conversations. The ordinance was introduced last month and prohibits the city from issuing permits to renovate SROs into high-value housing for the next six months, preventing a possible spate of development and additional evictions until a long-term preservation ordinance is passed. “It is good that the city is paying attention to affordable housing options,” said Robert Rohdenburg, an SRO resident and an organizer with ONE Northside. “Discrimination and segregation are all part of this issue.”
For low-income residents, seniors and people with disabilities, SROs are the only affordable housing options. The number of units has declined rapidly the last three years.
Low-income residents, seniors and people with disabilities are running out of places to live in Chicago as more and more single-room occupancy buildings are being converted into high-value housing. An SRO preservation ordinance — which has plenty of support, but plenty of details to iron out — was put on hold last month. In the interim, the city, aldermen and activist groups today introduced an ordinance that would place a six-month moratorium on SRO conversions, preventing a possible spate of development and additional evictions until the preservation ordinance is passed. The ban prohibits the issuance of city permits for conversion and demolition, as well as any action that reduces the number of units. Meanwhile, several stakeholders, including city officials, property owners, developers, nonprofits and advocates are working on a more permanent solution.