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Chicago South Side Residents Say They’re Being Displaced by Obama Center

Chicago residents who live in the neighborhood in which the Obama Center will be built as a monument to former President Barack Obama and to house his presidential papers are angry that they are being pushed out of their neighborhood.

“This is the community that sent him to the White House, and we should be the community that gets to stay and benefit from the presidential center,” said Dixon Romeo, founder of the community organization Not Me We, according to The Washington Post.

“We’re not against the center, but we are against gentrification. We are against displacement,” Romeo said, according to the Guardian.

“Our demands show there’s a way to have the Center without having displacement — or at least policies in place to mitigate it. Right now there are none,” he said.

The Post noted that a recent referendum that received 90 percent support among Chicago’s South Shore residents called for the city to ensure there will be affordable housing around the center.

Michele Williams, 80, is not hopeful.

“The Obama Center is not being built for Chicago,” she said at a recent community meeting. “It’s being built for the world.”

Those people “don’t want us here. So what do you think is going to happen?” she said.

Michael Strautmanis, the Obama Foundation’s executive vice president for civic engagement, said the foundation hopes to find a way to make everyone happy

“Our hope and intention is that the people who live there now are able to enjoy the center when it comes online,” Strautmanis said. “There is an opportunity for this to be a success story.”

But when the Post went digging for facts, it found that median rents in three zip codes around the center rose by 43 percent since just before the 2015 announcement of the site being selected. Home values are up more than 130 percent.

The Illinois Answers Project reported that almost a third of the homes bought in the final quarter of 2022 were purchased by investors.

“With a development of this size and economic impact, it was unavoidable that it would have a profound effect on the local housing market and exacerbate existing affordability challenges for many low-income residents of Woodlawn and South Shore,” said William Sites, a professor in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice at the nearby University of Chicago.

“The evidence was pretty clear that even before the groundbreaking, early on in the predevelopment process, housing values were rising quite dramatically in both Woodlawn and South Shore,” he continued.

Many agreed with a Twitter poster who noted that the penalty paid by black residents of Chicago is “literally the perfect representation of Obama’s entire political career.”

Tahiti Hamer knows how that feels.

In 2021, the year the center broke ground, her rent rose 40 percent. The landlord did not respond to requests to reduce the increase.

“She said, ‘Oh, you know, the area is changing. My taxes have gone up. So, that’s it, then. I’m a working mother who can’t afford to live in my own community that I’ve lived in for 42 years,’” Hamer stated.

“What these community members are asking for is merely that they have a chance to stay in the community once the conditions many of them have suffered through, in some cases for generations, begin to change,” Sites said.

“Unfortunately, they’ve started to change not because the people who live there are, on their own, deserving of investment and opportunity, but because outside investors have determined that these are places they want to develop,” he said.

  • A. Michaels says:

    The half breed son-of-a-bitch should be forced to live there.

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