a rendering of the future Chicago Fire performance center
A rendering of the future Chicago Fire performance center Credit: Courtesy City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development

It was a connect-the-dots moment in Chicago as the following news stories recently broke in rapid succession.

Chicago Public School enrollment fell again. It’s now down more than 115,000 students over the last 20 years.

There are homeless camps in many parks and under viaducts, including Touhy Park on the far north side. That’s where a wannabe political candidate tried a stunt out of the Ron DeSantis playbook, luring the homeless out of the park with bogus eviction notices promising them jobs in other parts of the city.

And the City Council approved a zoning change that allows Chicago Housing Authority land, intended for low-income housing, to be used as a training center for the Fire soccer team.

I would say the shortage of low-income housing and the falling population are the direct results of planning decisions made over the last 30 or so years to do exactly what they did—encourage people to leave Chicago and make it far too expensive for poor people to stay.

We got what we wanted, Chicago. We should be happy.

But, Chicago being Chicago, when the Fire deed was done a chorus of alderpeople rose to say they were doing it on behalf of poor people. Which is what Chicago officials usually say when the city passes a deal that actually encourages poor people to get out of town.

Time for a brief history lesson on low-income housing in Chicago.

Throughout the last century, Chicago faced a housing crisis caused in part by the Great Migration, an influx of Black residents moving north from the south.

Chicago’s leaders might have confronted the housing crisis by making sure Black residents were welcomed in every corner of the city.

Except there was fierce resistance in many all-white neighborhoods whenever even a handful of Black families tried to move in.

Actually, resistance is a euphemism for what happened. Riots being the more accurate description of what went down.

In the years after World War II, there were the Trumbull Park riots, the Fernwood Park riots, the Peoria Street riots, and the Airport Homes riots. You can read all about them in Arnold Hirsch’s classic book, Making the Second Ghetto

You could name a who’s who of prominent Black Chicagoans whose families were confronted by rioters. Starting with Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun.

After her father, Carl Hansberry, bought a home in then all-white Washington Park, he was greeted not so much by a mob of residents as a mob of lawsuits. They tried to keep Hansberry and his family out of the neighborhood by arguing a restrictive clause in the lease prevented Black people from buying the property.

The “resistance” was still fierce in 1966, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., leading a fair housing campaign, got hit in the head with a rock while marching in Marquette Park.

In the face of the mobs, the powers that be decided the best course of action was to cram Black people into high-rise complexes built in already all-Black neighborhoods.

That decision enjoyed biracial political support. White politicians liked it because it kept Black people out of their wards. And Black politicians liked it because it kept Black people in their wards, pretty much guaranteeing their reelection.

Nobody loves segregation like Chicago!

In the 1990s, Mayor Daley decided the high-rises had outlived their usefulness. In conjunction with the Clinton administration, he announced the Plan for Transformation.

The residents would be moved out and the high-rises demolished. Mayor Daley promised that people who were moved out would be welcomed back, once lower-rise buildings were built on the sites.

There were a few critics—like yours truly—who said Daley was clearing out the poor people so he could turn the land over to developers.

But Daley said we, the critics, were just too cynical for our own good. And he was in fact tearing down the high-rises to allow the poor people an escape from the crime and misery of the projects.

And that everyone who got moved out would be invited back. 

One of the high-rises that got demolished were in the ABLA complex, around Roosevelt and Ashland, where the Fire will build its practice facility.

Years ago, there were about 3,600 families living in ABLA. Now there’s less than 100 families. I urge everybody to read my old friend Mick Dumke’s stories about the deal. But in a nutshell . . .

Joe Mansueto, the Fire’s owner, has been looking for a site for his practice center for the last several years.

After his plan to build the site at Hanson Park on the northwest side fell apart, Mansueto opted for the approximately 26 acres near ABLA. And so the CHA agreed to lease it to him. And last month the city council completed the deal by agreeing to change the zoning to allow for the soccer facility.

During the council debate, Alderperson Walter Burnett said the city was turning over the land to the Fire because that’s what the remaining ABLA residents wanted. And, it’s true, several residents said they did. Of course, no one asked the thousands of residents who were moved out (and remain on CHA waiting lists) what they thought about the deal.

Let’s face it, we all know what’s been going on. For better or worse, our mayors over the last 30 years have dedicated themselves to a policy of gentrification.

Tear down the high-rises. Move out the poor people. Lease the CHA lands so they can’t return. And let rising property taxes make this city too expensive for many people to afford.

No mayor will admit this was the plan. It sounds so, you know, Ron DeSantis-like. But, effectively, that’s what they’ve been up to as the city tries to reverse the Great Migration.

When Dr. King came to town, he said we needed to end poverty. But that was too challenging for Chicago’s leaders. So they decided to just move it someplace else.

The Latest from the Ben Joravsky Show

Carlos & Rossana–Rules Of Order The Ben Joravsky Show

Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa & Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez take the deep dive on Bring Chicago Home. That's a proposal to put a binding referendum on the ballot asking voters if they support slapping a tax on the sale of wealthy property to raise money to build housing for homeless. It's not a proposal to create such a tax. Again, it's a proposal to ask you, the voters, if you want to create that tax. It seemed to have widespread aldermanic support. But…Chicago being Chicago, it never came for a vote in the council. Carlos & Rossana explain what went down.See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.
  1. Carlos & Rossana–Rules Of Order
  2. "NYT Solidarity" & Helen Shiller
  3. Marc Sims—Chicago Explained

RELATED STORIES

The choice is yours, voters

Content warning: This column contains a reference to sexual violence. As I write, it’s Labor Day—traditionally, the start of the election season. That means “normal” people start to sorta pay attention to what’s going on in politics, as opposed to political junkies, like myself, who never stop paying attention. As such, it’s my pleasure to…

More madness from Mary

I suppose it’s somewhat reassuring to know people still get outraged by the MAGA madness Mary Miller spews. That we all haven’t gone numb to her lunacy—even though she seems to be saying crazy things all the time. In case you forgot, Mary Miller is the downstate congresswoman who made her name last year by…

Thinking like us

In a year in which Republicans are trying to scare white people into voting Republican, Richard Irvin has taken things one step further. He’s running a commercial intended to win over the “right” (think MAGA) kind of white people by assuring them he’s scaring the shit out of the wrong kind of white people (think…