Gloria Williams and her family didn’t receive a warm welcome when they moved to West Englewood in 1970.
Her family, like tens of thousands of other African-American families, moved to the Southwest Side neighborhood in the latter half of the 20th century. White residents, who had lived there for years, were hostile. Often, she said, her streets would erupt in race riots — once forcing her to seek refuge inside a nearby high school for a day.
But the 53-year-old remained in West Englewood, only to see her once-prospering community become filled with blight.
Now, there’s a new demographic shift in her neighborhood. African-Americans are leaving for better opportunities as a small-but-growing number of Hispanics move into Englewood and West Englewood, a community residents commonly call Greater Englewood.
Greater Englewood’s total population dropped from 71,740 in 2010 to an estimated 55,004 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. During that time, the African-American population fell from 69,776 to 51,015 — a loss of nearly 19,000 residents. African-Americans still make up more than 90 percent of the population, but as some leave, the Hispanic population has tripled in size, from 845 people in 2010 to about 2,700 people by 2017.
What’s driving the influx? Cheap property, Williams said.
That’s what drew Jessica Rodriguez, 27, who is part of that small Hispanic wave. She bought her first home just a year ago in West Englewood.
“It just got stuck in my head that we were paying rent for something that wasn’t for me or wasn’t something I could leave for my son,” Rodriguez said. “I knew that one day if I bought a house it would eventually be mine, instead of paying for someone else’s mortgage.”
She had lived in a tiny two-bedroom unit in Back of the Yards. But the apartment was in poor condition, and she wanted more room for her 9-year-old son. A single mother, she also needed something she could afford, and the median sale price in Back of the Yards is $115,000, according to Realtor.com.
On the other hand, the median sale price of a home in Englewood is $46,000; in West Englewood, $60,800.
Rodriguez paid about $75,000 for her West Englewood home; her mortgage is under $600 a month.
Williams isn’t alone in noticing the growing Hispanic population. Community organizations like Teamwork Englewood, Grow Greater Englewood and Residents Association of Greater Englewood have also recognized the challenges their changing neighborhood will face.
Other West and South Side neighborhoods also are grappling with the loss of African-American residents and an influx of Hispanics.
In Chicago Lawn the African-American population dropped from about 30,000 to under 24,000 from 2010 through 2017, according to Census Bureau estimates. At the same time, Chicago Lawn’s Hispanic population grew from less than 21,000 to more than 26,000, making Hispanics the largest racial and ethnic group in that area. Chicago Lawn’s total population is 53,000, about the same as in 2010.
Overall, the bureau estimates Chicago’s African-American population dropped nearly 10 percent between 2010 and 2017, to 820,000. In that time, the Hispanic population grew nearly 5 percent, to 790,000.
Williams believes Hispanics won’t experience the same backlash her family once did. There is, however, growing concern among the African-American community in Greater Englewood about being pushed out, she said.
“It’s going to be a great relationship between Hispanics and African-Americans,” Williams said, once they “get past the trust issue,” because “we all share the same issues, have the same problems and we can work together to resolve some of the issues in our community as one.”
Aysha Butler, president of Residents Association of Greater Englewood, said there has been little coalition-building between the two groups.
“It’s really hard to have the conversation when people are feeling that their Hispanic neighbors aren’t very neighborly,” Butler said. “I know a lot of my West Englewood members are very uneasy about this and I just hope eventually that we reach a common ground because unfortunately we’ve been taught to be divided and if we were working more closely together we probably would have a little more power.”
Berto Aguayo, a Hispanic community organizer who lost a bid for 15th Ward alderman, said African-American residents often share concerns about the incoming Hispanics as he canvasses the neighborhood.
“I think there is a need for more events where a cultural exchange from Latinos and African-Americans [helps them] learn more about each other’s shared experiences.”
Aguayo said African-Americans and Hispanics can work together on affordable housing and police accountability, but only through honest dialogue.
“We are both impacted by the very same issues,” Aguayo said. “But then, because of scarce resources, we are pitted against each other.”
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.