Candidates finish housing debate

By Carl Pickerill

Elections commence citywide today as local aldermanic candidates in the fourth, fifth, and 20th wards concluded their campaigns by turning with increasing intensity to the contentious issue of urban housing. A number of forums and meetings held in Hyde Park and Woodlawn in the past few weeks have dealt with the region’s changing demographics and rising housing costs.

“I can’t say that the poor residents of the community are being sufficiently looked after,” said State Representative Howard Kenner, 20th ward candidate, in an interview. “People are frustrated. Residents are frustrated. They feel like they are being forced out of the neighborhoods that their families have resided in for years.”

Kenner addressed local residents this past Thursday at the Shebeen King Café on the 6500 block of St. Lawrence Avenue, speaking to the loss of rental property in the neighborhood. Such property, he said, was being replaced by less affordable condos “at a phenomenal rate.”

The incumbent Arenda Troutman, national spokesman for the Rainbow Coalition Lydia Watts, and local lawyer and DePaul Law School graduate Donna Rayme join Kenner in vying for the 20th ward spot.

At a forum held by The Woodlawn Organization (TWO) at the beginning of the month, Troutman said that she intended to “continue bringing the neighborhood out of 40 years of neglect.”

“There has been no market-rate housing in Woodlawn in the past 40 years,” she said. “The community has a need to see that its dilapidated structures and eradicated buildings are torn down and replaced.”

Watts commented that same evening on the University’s role in community housing, saying that people from the University “aren’t moving to Woodlawn because they like you. It’s because you have something that they want.”

Troutman denied claims that she was acting solely in the interest of residential development and said she envisions Woodlawn as a “true mixed-income community.”

Georgette Greenleaf Finney, vice president of the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation (WDCD), the real estate subsidiary of TWO, echoed the alderman’s sentiments on the lack of market rate housing in a phone interview.

“Between 1970 and 1997 the WDCD built over 1,600 units of affordable housing in Woodlawn,” she said, referring to housing subsidized by the city for residents or available with Section 8 housing vouchers. “As of this date we have not yet built 100 units of market rate homes. We have a huge commitment to affordable rental housing.”

Affordable housing has also been an issue in the fourth and fifth wards. Incumbent Leslie Hairston said that South Shore, a neighborhood comprising part of her fifth ward, is experiencing an influx of former public housing residents from south of the loop. The Robert Taylor and the Ida B. Wells housing projects, among others, have been torn down or are slated to be torn down in preparation for urban renewal in the fourth ward.

These residents were provided with vouchers that can be used anywhere in the city to relocate. As a result of South Shore’s cheap rental housing market, many have relocated to the fifth ward.

“The city acted too soon,” Hairston said in an interview. “We now have high concentrations of low income residents together. So instead of the vertical ghettos we had in Bronzeville, we have horizontal ghettos in South Shore.”

Hairston squared off against her opponent Oscar Worrill in a housing forum this past Wednesday, which featured the aldermanic candidates from the fourth and fifth wards.

Worrill stressed the importance of providing quality housing and services to those residents who have moved to the area.

“We need tenants’ rights,” he said. “There are certain things that the tenant just does not know, and he needs to be more informed to make educated decisions.”

Fourth ward incumbent Toni Preckwinkle said during the forum that the federal government mandated that the high-rises come down.

The federal government ran fiscal viability tests on all Chicago high-rises in the early ’90s and no Chicago high-rise passed the tests.

“There has not been sufficient attention given to where people are going after the high-rises come down,” she said. “Our major problem was fundamentally how we were going to provide facilitation for people to find affordable housing.”

Her opponent Norman Bolden, a marketing executive at WGCI radio, said that residential redevelopment of the fourth ward should have occurred before the high-rises came down.

“If you look down State [Street], you didn’t see anything new going up before Robert Taylor homes were torn down,” he said. “There must be programs in place. There must be job training so it will not be a culture shock when residents of these places have to move to a new neighborhood.”

Preckwinkle celebrated the legislation that she passed recently with Hairston requiring that a percentage of newly developed housing stock be “set aside” as affordable housing.

“Just as Boston, Sacramento, and San Diego have done, we need to harness the energies of the private development community to provide affordable housing to our areas,” she said.

Preckwinkle also mentioned plans to construct 1,500 units of new, rehabilitated housing, much of which she claimed will be affordable housing.

Bolden said he doubted that the residents who were removed from housing projects in the fourth ward will ever be able to return.

“There are many in the fourth ward who don’t make the medium income necessary to pay even for the so-called affordable homes,” he said. “So many are struggling who want quality homes.”

The alderman noted, however, that much of what has been built was constructed on vacated land. “On 42nd Street we took down abandoned buildings and thus weren’t removing tenants from their buildings,” Preckwinkle said.