Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday January 12th, 2015, 5:49pm

Logan Square Community To Highlight Gentrification In Upcoming Event Series

Logan Square housing activists will kick off a series of community events this week on the topic of gentrification and its impact in the rapidly-changing Northwest Side neighborhood of Chicago.

The four-part gentrification discussion with residents, community groups, academics and others is being spearheaded by We Are/Somos Logan Square, a grassroots organization advocating for affordable housing and tenants rights. The group formed last January in response to the alleged displacement of longtime tenants in an apartment building acquired by M. Fishman & Co., a Logan Square property management firm that owns a number of properties in the gentrifying neighborhood.

The four events, running from this Wednesday through January 24, will touch on the history of gentrification and how it "actually works," its effects and what can be done to preserve racial and economic diversity in communities, with a focus on Logan Square, where property values and rents are escalating.

"Sometimes people think that gentrification is a natural force of some sort, but it really is not," said Amie Sell, outreach coordinator with We Are/Somos Logan Square.

Sell said the programs -- which will be a mix of talks from academics, panel discussions and testimony from community members -- are intended to "create an open dialogue" about gentrification and invigorate people to take action around efforts to help grow neighborhoods in a more sustainable way, including stronger affordable housing policies and community benefits agreements with developers.

Logan Square native and Northeastern Illinois University anthropology instructor Jesse Mumm is at least one gentrification researcher who will give presentations at the events.

In explaining gentrification, Mumm said the process essentially creates an "artificial inflation" of a community's housing market.

"Artificial in the sense that is doesn't actually correspond to the amount that people are fixing up their houses," he noted. "When Mexicans and blacks and Puerto Ricans fix their buildings up, that doesn't make property value jump, like double in five or ten years. But when a few white kids move into a neighborhood, that can. And that is not logic. It doesn't actually follow some kind of classic economic model that says, 'Oh, well, it's the improvement that causes the increase in value.' Not really. It's people's imaginary idea that their new value as new residents is better than that of the old residents."

The upcoming gentrification talks come as Chicago aldermen weigh changes, supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to strengthen the city's Affordable Requirements Ordinance, which took effect in 2007. Sell said local housing organizers have been working behind the scenes on the ARO reforms, and We Are/Somos Logan Square wants to see them passed by the city council.

Under the current ARO, developers of residential projects utilizing zoning increases or building on city land have to designate 10 percent of their units as affordable, or instead pay $100,000 per required unit into a city fund for affordable housing. Of the proposed ARO changes put forward last month, one clause mandates that developers designate at least 25 percent of the required affordable housing units on-site, at the property in question. In some cases, developers can set aside required affordable units at their properties located elsewhere in the city. In order to opt out of that requirement, developers would have to pay a $225,000 fee per required unit. Emanuel's office says the pending ARO changes would create 1,200 affordable housing units and generate almost $100 million in housing funds over five years.

In addition to generating support around the ARO reforms and other affordable housing-related policies, Sell said her group hopes the gentrification events will help create momentum around obtaining community benefits agreements with Logan Square developers for future housing projects in the area. Specifically, Sell said the goal would be for the agreements to include affordable unit requirements. Such agreements, she said, could be a "way that maybe we can turn the table a little bit and allow development to be community-driven and not developer-driven."

While Mumm supports the idea of community benefits agreements, he said, "They don't go far enough." To help stem the tide of gentrification, Mumm called for larger reforms, particularly to the city's controversial tax increment financing (TIF) program, which is intended to spur economic development in "blighted" areas.

"There's a whole lot we could be doing with the same half of our TIF money that we give away to private interests, most of whom are millionaire or multimillionaire corporations, and instead give it right back to the communities where the money's being generated," he said. "That, I think, is the debate we need to have."

Here's a list of the upcoming events sponsored by We Are/Somos Logan Square:

The Basics: What is gentrification and how does it impact all of us?

Wednesday, January 14

7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Grace Church of Logan Square, 3325 W. Wrightwood Ave.

History of Gentrification: Giving historical context to neighborhood change to learn from the past

Saturday, January 17

12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square, 2649 N. Francisco Ave.

Racism and Classism: How and why displacement of minorities and poor people happens

Wednesday, January 21

7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Grace Church of Logan Square, 3325 W. Wrightwood Ave.

Affordability Saving Diversity: Exploring ways the community can improve while preserving economic and racial diversity 

Saturday, January 24

12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Humboldt Park United Methodist Church, 2120 N. Mozart St.


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