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Readers weigh in on ‘the truth’ about Jefferson Park apartment plan

Ald. John Arena (45th) and affordable housing advocates held a news conference at City Hall last year to support a Jefferson Park development that includes affordable housing. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

A number of readers wanted to set me straight regarding my column about an apartment building being proposed for the Jefferson Park neighborhood that would house mostly low-income tenants.

Speaker after speaker at Tuesday’s Zoning Committee hearing stressed that their objections to the development were based on the height and density of the planned seven-story, 100-unit building, not the demographic makeup of the likely residents.

OPINION

But those who wrote to me, although equally opposed, have other ideas. Here is a representative sampling:

“Hey Mark, do you live with Section 8 housing? White liberal media like you make me sick! Who in their right mind would welcome low-income housing? I sure as hell wouldn’t. Maybe you should get on the Internet and check out how these animals live. Would bet my life none of their type live in your hood.” — John Dinovella

“As hard as this is to read, it’s even harder to write. We were driven out of our old neighborhood by the minorities moving in. They threatened us and threw stones and glass at us — even set our car on fire. They wanted our area and told us in no uncertain terms to get out. You wrote an article about the housing project at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. I’m very familiar with that area. But if neighbors cringe, this might tell you why. You and others are ‘brave’ so long as you don’t get surrounded by minorities. You call it ‘prejudiced,’ you make sure you don’t get surrounded. You pick a ‘nice area,’ mostly white. And don’t tell me otherwise.” — Pat Driessen

“You are being a bit disingenuous regarding the Jefferson Park affordable housing plan. Yes, it is about zoning density, Chicago politics and economics. All these arguments and good intentions for affordable housing were made for the Cabrini Green homes and Robert Taylor homes sixty years ago, and how did that work out? What is to prevent this place from turning into the same rat traps as Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor? The root of this is economics, not race or Trump. Can you find 100-plus stable, conscientious residents that will maintain the quality of the neighborhood and the building? Sorry, I am cynical.” — Bob Brandstatter, DDS

“Like it or not, this is a historical fact. Affordable housing=crime increase= loss of property value. Just wait. This is why the property owners are incensed. You can view it as racism, but it is still the truth.” — Mike Rice (retired CPD)

“The sad fact of the matter is this. No matter how one says it, euphemistically as AH, i.e., Affordable Housing, or brutally honestly, CHA or Section 8, once that is associated with any project, surrounding property values suffer. The alderman has been a condescending whatever to not only his constituents but those of the bordering 38th and 41st Wards. He ignores the millions of dollars those homeowners have invested in their homes over the years, which if this goes in, they fear will not bring them the return for which they have worked so hard.”— Rich Rzadski, Portage Park

I hardly know how to respond.

Mostly, I’d prefer to allow the letters, which I have edited for space, to speak for themselves. Whether you agree with them or not, and I certainly don’t, I think they offer some insight into what’s really happening.

As to the personal stuff, I proudly live in a lakefront high-rise in Uptown that has black residents and people with Section 8 vouchers. The only “animals” I’ve noticed have four legs. My alderman tells me our very diverse neighborhood has the highest number of HUD-subsidized multi-family buildings in the city, not including CHA.

It’s also true that like most white people I probably wouldn’t have moved to a place where I was in the minority.

We all deal with our prejudices in our own way. It’s usually a good first step to recognize you have them.