October 3, 2006

Local residents rally against gentrification

Led by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) and the Concerned Tenants of Hyde Park, about 150 residents from Hyde Park and surrounding neighborhoods marched on Saturday in a rally against gentrification.

Many Chicago neighborhoods—such as Hyde Park, North Kenwood, Bronzeville, and Woodlawn—have tended to offer affordable rental housing, according to MTO officials. Recently, however, as rents increase, developers have been converting many rental apartment buildings into higher-priced condos, gentrifying the neighborhoods.

Demonstrators met at the Drexel Square Fountain at East 51st Street and South Drexel Boulevard and marched to Harold Washington Park at East 53rd Street and South Hyde Park Boulevard, holding homemade signs emblazoned with slogans such as “Development Without Displacement” and “I Was Evicted Ten Days Ago.” Sly and The Family Stone’s “Family Affair” played in the background.

Both MTO and the Concerned Tenants of Hyde Park are organizations that advocate affordable and available housing and tenants’ rights.

“We’re gonna do this over and over again until [the city puts] a freeze on the conversion of condos until better policies are set,” said John Bartlett, executive director of the MTO. The audience met his words with applause and cheers.

He explained that the MTO is not necessarily against development, but rather the organization is concerned with keeping communities intact in the face of disappearing inexpensive housing.

Annette Williams, a resident of Grove Park Apartments in Woodlawn, explained that because her apartment building failed a city inspection, it risks being vacated and put on the market by Housing Urban Development (HUD), leaving it open to purchase by private developers.

Williams expressed hopes that one day she might be able to “own the land and the building along with the other tenants” to avoid eviction and the burden of finding new low- and middle-income housing.

Mapel Hardy, a resident of Lake Park Apartments, spoke about the problem of obtaining Section 8 certificates—housing vouchers given to residents with sufficiently low incomes in order to partially subsidize housing—that require an evicted tenant to rent another affordable apartment without federal assistance.

“In my personal opinion, most of us would not qualify for vouchers,” she said.

Liz Lazdins, an MTO volunteer at the rally, University of Chicago Laboratory Schools alumna, and a life-long Hyde Parker, said she hoped the demonstration “would bring attention from the city, so that they know we’re not gonna take this sitting down.”