Jefferson Park can become model for new Chicago


Jefferson Park can become model for new Chicago

By Tyra Bosnic

A fierce debate over affordable housing in Jefferson Park began Jan. 26 when Ald. John Arena (45th Ward) revealed plans for a 100-unit, mixed-income apartment building. This development would bring affordable housing opportunities to low-income individuals and families, people with disabilities and military veterans. 

With a shortage of affordable housing units, according to a May 2017 study by the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University, Jefferson Park deserves apartments its low-income residents can afford, which are well below the neighborhood’s average rent rate of $1,286 per month. 

While some were pleased an apartment complex prioritizing the disadvantaged was coming to Jefferson Park, others took to the neighborhood’s streets to protest. On Feb. 21, residents marched  against the development for low-income residents. Some residents protested outside Arena’s office with some chanting “No Section 8!” a reference to those who qualify for the housing voucher program that subsidizes rent cost.

Recent efforts to block the complex include opponents raising about $13,000 to sue Arena and the city to halt permit-granting and construction. 

This is not the first time Jefferson Park has opposed progress. In the 1970s, residents led a similar opposition to Chicago Housing Authority public housing and black students from the Austin neighborhood coming to Jefferson Park schools. The actions then, like now, were a thinly veiled attempt to maintain the racial and economic makeup of the neighborhood. 

Nearly 67 percent of Jefferson Park residents are white and the majority are middle class with an average $63,000 household median income. The opposition to the new apartment complex amounts to some residents viewing it as an invasion, claiming that  affordable housing will bring crime to the neighborhood and lower property values. 

Even if the apartment complex brought in new residents to Jefferson Park, creating affordable homes is not promoting “invasion” of the neighborhood. It is advocating for a new culture of inclusion instead of the tradition of segregation that has been a shameful part of Chicago’s history.

The modern Chicago map outlines more than the city’s grid-like structure. It shows a long history of a city segregated by race and class that has negatively affected every Chicagoan. According to “The Cost of Segregation,” a March 2017 report by the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Chicago area would see an $8 billion increase in gross domestic product if the city was less segregated. 

Despite claims that the Jefferson Park apartment complex would bring more crime to the neighborhood, this step toward greater diversity would actually save lives in a city plagued by gun violence. According to MPC’s report, Chicago’s homicide rate would drop by 30 percent if progress toward integration was made. 

If the city is to ever see a future free of violence and hardship, small steps in improving affordable housing must be taken. Jefferson Park is an apt example of Chicago’s tired history of segregation, and right now, it has the opportunity to set a new precedent.