Mihalopoulos: Moreno stirs pot with gentrification dinner tab

SHARE Mihalopoulos: Moreno stirs pot with gentrification dinner tab

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) at a Chicago City Council meeting in 2015. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times

Follow @dmihalopoulosMany of Chicago’s neighborhoods are for sale again, nearly a decade after the last great housing bubble burst.

As in the earlier real estate boom, new condo buildings sprout quickly and loom high above old single-family homes and two-flats. The crest of the gentrification wave surges north and west along Milwaukee Avenue and the new 606 elevated trail.

City Council members have what’s called aldermanic prerogative to pass judgment on plans for bigger and taller buildings on their turf. That’s why much of the angst in Logan Square — the hipster heaven undergoing the most dramatic makeover — is directed at 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno.

His upcoming appearance at a $50-a-plate “Discussion of Gentrification with Ald. Joe Moreno” won’t quiet criticism that he’s spurring on the displacement of working-class families.


Follow @dmihalopoulos“Guests will have an opportunity to speak with Ald. Moreno and ask how his policies and initiatives have helped shape the ward,” according to an online invitation for the “Community Dining” event on Feb. 15.

It will you set you back $50, plus a fee of $3.74, for Moreno’s company and “dinner not including drinks” at Quiote, a restaurant with “contemporary, Mexican-inspired cuisine” and an “underground mezcal bar.”

“This is a joke, isn’t it?” said Justine Bayod Espoz, an anti-gentrification activist with the Somos Logan Square nonprofit group. “Charging $50 a plate for a gentrification dinner? Can you see why this is baffling? If you ask people to pay $50 a plate, all you’re going to hear is pro-gentrification stuff.”

Moreno says he’s looking forward to it.

“I’m a speaker,” he says. “I’m not making money off it or anything. Anybody that invites me to come talk, I’m going to talk.”

The alderman says his ward led the city last year in the number of new affordable-housing units. He also proudly points to recently approved plans for an 88-unit, six-story building on Milwaukee that will be “100 percent affordable housing.”

Bayod Espoz and other activists from Somos Logan Square were not invited to the community event. I told them about it.

Moreno told me they are “idiots” who don’t understand the issues.

“I don’t consider those folks really legitimate actors,” Moreno says. “They’re a Facebook group.”

Bayod Espoz, 35, still lives in the home in Logan Square her family moved into when she was 8. About two years ago, for the first time since the housing crash of 2008, she and her neighbors began again receiving letters from developers wanting to buy their homes and knock them down for new construction.

She’s angry at Moreno for the two 12-story towers near Milwaukee and California.

“Growing up, our block was full of families,” she says. “Now, there are no families with small children. But you see lots of dogs, because yuppies replace kids with dogs.

“The neighborhood is no longer for families, or it’s only for families with a whole lot of money. That’s a sad statement on the way our city is going.”

Fifty bucks may well be a good deal for dinner at Quiote. Fifty bucks certainly isn’t a lot compared to what it costs for dinner at many swankier places these days.

But it’s a lot for many of the families most affected by the topic of the Feb. 15 dinner with the alderman, Bayod Espoz says.

“It’s not community building when you’re charging $50 a head,” she says. “We’re talking about people who don’t have a ton of money to take Uber around town, get drinks and eat at fancy places.”

It’s not easy for an alderman to balance the old and the new in a red-hot neighborhood.

But Moreno could be better off having this community discussion over a potluck supper or dipping into his campaign fund to cover the tab.

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