February 16, 2019

UChicago Organization Circulates CBA Petition

The organization UChicago for a CBA, founded to mobilize University of Chicago students and alumni over the upcoming Obama Presidential Center, has circulated a petition urging the University to sign a community benefits agreement (CBA) before construction proceeds. At publication time, UChicago for a CBA’s petition had garnered 233 signatures. The organization recently published an op-ed in The Maroon detailing their demands.

A CBA is a legal document in which a developer promises to provide the community surrounding their development with certain benefits. As mutually agreed-upon contracts, CBAs are legally binding for their signatories. Federica Ferrari, an organizer with UChicago for a CBA and originator of the petition, stated that one aim of a CBA between the Obama Foundation and community organizations is establishing a commitment of the Obama Presidential Center project to the welfare of local communities.

“The kind of concessions that we’re looking for would be centered around the University’s development—the for-profit boutique hotel, the Rubenstein Forum, and the new dorm—so the idea would be that, when we look at employment, a majority of the jobs in the development should go to residents surrounding the library,” Ferrari said. “There should be local hiring, and when we say local, we mean from Woodlawn, from the area.”

Ferrari also called for the Obama Presidential Center and the University to provide quality education and affordable housing for local residents.

“The University should partner with local schools to enhance programming and provide tutoring,” Ferrari said. “One of the main things…is that the community benefits agreement would establish something called a community lands trust, where the University would set aside a certain amount of money where local residents can get low interest loans, as well as set aside new housing for low-income households in the area.”

UChicago for a CBA is a part of the Obama Community Benefits Coalition, a group of South Side community advocacy groups attempting to pass a CBA via a Chicago City Council Ordinance. Such an ordinance, if approved by the City Council, would be enforceable against the Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago even if the two parties are not signatories. However, members of UChicago for a CBA say they believe petitioning the University of Chicago to accede to a CBA of its own volition also has merit.

“What we saw as a problem with the [ordinance] strategy is that it kind of cuts the University out,” Ferrari said. “It takes away responsibility from the University, because of course they wouldn’t be in these laws. And the University is the main academic partner of the Obama Presidential Center.”

Amid a changing political climate in Chicago, organizers are hopeful of their endeavor’s success. Ferrari noted, “Every single candidate for alderman in the ward in which Woodlawn is located are all supportive of a community benefits agreement, as well as around half of the mayoral candidates.”

Woodlawn is split by two wards: Chicago’s 20th Ward, under Willie Cochran; and Leslie Hairston’s 5th Ward, both of which will be contested in the upcoming election. The 20th ward is in an open race currently contested by nine candidates, according to BallotReady. As The Chicago Maroon reported on January 22, all of these candidates are in favor of a CBA. In the 5th Ward, however, incumbent Leslie Hairston has not directly expressed support for a CBA. Of her two challengers, William Calloway supports a CBA, as does Gabriel Piemonte.

UChicago for a CBA also held a public panel, hosted by University professor and artist Eve Ewing, on February 12. The panel featured representatives from various member organizations of Obama Community Benefits organization and residents from South Side neighborhoods.