- Chloe Riley
- Welcoming sign at the Barbara Jean Wright apartments, a Near West Side affordable housing complex that’s been divided up by ward redistricting.
Sit in the management office of the Barbara Jean Wright apartments and you’re in the 25th Ward. But step into an apartment across the street and you’re suddenly in the 11th.
That’s because ward redistricting carried out by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his allies cut the affordable housing complex down the middle, with the north end now falling in the territory of 25th Ward alderman Danny Solis and the south end in the realm of 11th Ward, overseen until May by retiring alderman James Balcer.
“They cut in half the community and they cut in half the neighborhood,” says Sam Douglas, vice president of BJ Wright’s tenants’ association.
Douglas has lived in the complex since it first opened in the early 1970s. In 1999, BJ Wright underwent a $6.5 million rehabilitation after the Chicago Community Development Corporation bought it and converted it into affordable housing.
Geographically, BJ Wright falls in a kind of no-man’s-land. Market-rate condos and UIC’s campus border the complex to the south and east, but just west lies what’s left of the Chicago Housing Authority’s ABLA Homes as well as the mixed-income Roosevelt Square Development, which replaced public housing.
The predominantly African-American neighborhood also suffered a major blow two years ago when the Marcy Newberry Center—a 130-year-old child-care facility—closed due to a lack of state funding.
The new ward map is the latest challenge.
Remapping happens every ten years, after the full census, to ensure that each ward has roughly the same number of people. But it also ends up being a political power play, with aldermen vying for resource-rich areas and sticking foes with new or challenging turf. For example, the 25th Ward remap cut out a good portion of east Pilsen, where Solis struggled during the 2011 election, and replaced it with parts of the booming Near West Side and West Loop neighborhoods.
This isn’t the first time the Barbara Jean Wright apartments have been divided by redistricting. In the previous ward remap, the 272-unit complex—which sits at the corner of Morgan and 14th Streets—was split, with the east half in the 25th Ward and the west half in the Second Ward, led by Robert Fioretti.
State senator Patricia Van Pelt, whose district includes all of the Barbara Jean Wright apartments, says city officials place further limitations on residents when they carve up the complex.
“That’s the problem with the way these maps are put together. When you have an area like that that’s already suffering, and then you take away the political clout that they do have, that’s really not want what we want to do,” Van Pelt says. “And when they’re not able to hold anyone accountable at a municipal level, it becomes an even bigger challenge, because they’re already disenfranchised.”
Marcy Newberry’s empty building is in Solis’s ward. Sam Douglas says he’s tried to contact Solis multiple times to discuss what will happen to it. He’s yet to get an answer.
The alderman’s office has been working with the property owners to develop a new plan for the site, says Solis spokesman Tom Bowen. But he wouldn’t say just what those plans entail.