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Chicago: Black Community Resists Land Grab

by Randy Evans and staff |
July 1, 2004
Read more articles in
"Chicago’s South Side"
March against gentrification on Chicago’s South Side. (Fight Back! News/Randy Evans)

Chicago, IL - Residents of the Woodlawn neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side are fighting to hold on to our neighborhood. We are threatened by gentrification, which is happening in many poor areas of the city. What does this mean? It means that 61st Street, which used to have a thriving business strip, would have condos instead.

Our foe is the alderman of the 20th ward, Arenda Troutman. She is backed by powerful developers, such as Brinshore Development, LLC. This company was involved in the elimination of public housing. They have made $600 million in recent years, largely from building expensive houses where the Chicago Housing Authority projects were torn down. As the property values in the center of the city rise, they want to now extend the land grab further south.

Troutman Faces Unified Black Community

In 1999, Alderman Troutman pushed through a vote in the City Council that changed the law about building permits on 61st Street between Indiana and Langley Avenues. This ‘rezoning,’ from business to residential, means small businesses, like a daycare, laundromat, a medical clinic and a grocery store are being pushed out. Small businesses that applied for licenses have been denied and property taxes have increased close to 100% in the area.

Donna Ramey, a lawyer and president of the 61st Street Business and Property Owners Association, sued the city to reverse the zoning change. That was successful for a while, but this year, Troutman put her ordinance again before the Council’s Zoning Committee.

On May 13, 50 people picketed in front of Troutman’s ward office to protest her plan. She refused to meet with them. Because of her arrogance, the protesters carried signs calling Troutman a ‘stale fish.’

On May 19, the day of the hearing by the Zoning Committee, a bus full of residents showed up to speak against the zoning change. Seventeen people, including working people who are renters in the area, testified against Troutman’s plan. Tenants have seen their rents rise, and fear they will soon be unable to afford to live along 61st Street. Only three people testified for Troutman. But the committee was not moved by this mobilization of the community. They adopted the change she requested.

As the community members were leaving the council chambers that day, Alderman Troutman followed us out. She pretended to want to listen to our concerns. We told her that we wouldn’t be fooled by tricks from her politician’s handbook. There will be a new alderman in the 20th ward!

Daley + Developers = Displacement

This is one battle in a struggle that is going on across Chicago. Under Mayor Daley, the rich are taking over neighborhoods, driving out members of communities that have lived there for decades. The Black community has been especially hard hit by the housing crisis. But the same pressure is on the other oppressed nationality communities, like the mainly Puerto Rican neighborhood of Humboldt Park, the mostly Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen as well as Uptown, where many low-income white workers live.

The struggle continues across the city. There is a continuing fight in the Bronzeville area of the North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood. The next neighborhood battle is shaping up in Englewood. This zoning change is a temporary victory for Troutman and for the developers that back her. The working people who live in Woodlawn, together with the small businesses there, will continue to say no to gentrification.

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