Credit: Hannah Linsky

Obama Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) | July 2020 from SoapBox PO on Vimeo.

This is a multimedia, cross-platform collaboration with SoapBox Productions and Organizing featuring a microdocumentary, podcast episode, and editorial piece as a part of SoapBox Action Works. This story was also published on SoapBox Editorial.

In this episode, BrownTown chops it up with Ashli Giles-Perkins and Ebonée Green, organizers with Black Youth Project 100 and the Obama Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) coalition. The gang talks about the effects of the future Obama Presidential Center (OPC) on Chicago’s south side, the organizing for a CBA to ensure affordable housing for area residents, as well as its relationship with healthcare, education, and police violence.

Five years ago, the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) declared its home on the south side of Chicago; it was presented as an opportunity to “revitalize” the area. Since then, we’ve been engaged in fierce community discussions about the economic impact of the center. 

Neighborhoods like Woodlawn, South Shore, and Washington Park have long faced pressures from gentrification, and we’re concerned that the Obama Center has the potential to displace the very residents it hopes to serve. 

As longtime and native south-side residents, we wanted our voices heard, so we formed the Obama Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition to ensure that our neighborhoods surrounding the center remain affordable for low-income south siders. Ten thousand Woodlawn residents are at risk of displacement if we do not act. For some, like CBA organizer Kyana Butler, the mere announcement about the OPC was enough to force her to move. Rents are rising in newly renovated and constructed units, which most current renters in this neighborhood cannot afford, and prices of for-sale housing are rising faster than the city average.

An entrance to “Lightfoot’s Tent City”Credit: Hannah Linsky

There are 51 acres of vacant, city-owned land in Woodlawn, which presents an opportunity for new affordable housing. When we include privately owned land, the amount of vacant land exceeds megadevelopments Lincoln Yards and the 78 combined. Both projects are receiving billions in tax dollars while Woodlawn is slated to receive only a fraction for affordable housing for residents who have called Woodlawn home for decades.

Enter COVID-19. Black and Latinx residents in Chicago experienced the highest number of cases and deaths from COVID-19. The spread of COVID-19 was amplified by the fact that our communities face higher rates of overcrowding than other parts of the city. Englewood residents alone are three times more likely to live in overcrowded homes when compared to Lakeview, which is the densest neighborhood in the city. Moreover, low-income Black families on the south side are facing the highest eviction rates and are some of the most rent burdened in the city.

For many essential workers who are unable to work from home, wages are often too low to afford rising rents in their neighborhoods. Almost 40 percent of Woodlawn residents work in essential jobs while nearly 20 percent are unemployed. COVID-19 will accelerate evictions and displacement in the neighborhood as residents have to fight to remain home as more than 20 million Americans face evictions in the coming months.

And even during a global pandemic, police have continued committing violence against Black people at horrifying rates. Breonna Taylor’s murder by Louisville police is connected to the city’s plans to vacate homes around Elliott Avenue to encourage luxury development. Reforms will not address the fact that police are inherently racist institutions, so activists have been pushing to defund police and shift funds to social services, such as health care and affordable housing. In Chicago alone, we spend $1.8 billion, over 40 percent of our allocated city budget, to fund police operations, which have continued to harm Black and Brown communities disproportionately.

On June 11, 2020, the CBA held an all-day action entitled “Lightfoot’s Tent City,” a 24-hour tent occupation of a vacant, city-owned lot in Woodlawn that called on the city to better use the unused land for affordable housing and called on the mayor to support the coalition’s affordable housing work. As part of the broader Black Lives Matter movement, Black Youth Project 100, GoodKids MadCity, the Civilian Police Accountability Council, and many others stood in solidarity with the coalition. It is our mandate to defund police in order to invest in the communities that have been torn apart both by police violence and inequitable, racist policies.

A protest march at “Lightfoot’s Tent City”Credit: Hannah Linsky

The evening of the Tent City action, the mayor’s office responded with a significantly improved offer, and our lead sponsor, Alderwoman Jeannette Taylor, has been in negotiations since. In order to reach an agreement, Mayor Lightfoot must ensure that 30 percent of city lots are set aside for affordable housing for 30 years. We also must ensure that displaced Woodlawn residents receive preference to move into new affordable housing on these lots, and that lots are set aside for affordable housing in areas that allow for density. Promises are not enough; this must be codified because housing matters, Black Lives Matter.  v

Credits: Micro-documentary produced and directed by Caullen Hudson; cinematography by Dakota Sillyman; edited by Austin C. Pruett

Podcast engineered by Genta Tamashiro, hosted by Caullen Hudson and David A. Moran