Lightfoot says she’s sensitive to Pilsen gentrification

The mayor said she wasn’t trying to negate or minimize the impact of displacement on longtime residents when she said Pilsen is a “vibrant, thriving neighborhood” a decade after being a place to avoid after dark.

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Buildings at the corner of West 18th and South Laflin streets in Pilsen.

A coalition of Pilsen community leaders sent a letter Friday to Mayor Lori Lightfoot asking for a meeting to discuss “solutions to create a model for balanced development that will yield more affordability.”

Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday tried to dig herself out of a political mess of her own making by saying Pilsen is a “vibrant, thriving neighborhood” a decade after being a place to avoid after dark.

Rookie Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) has branded the mayor’s remarks about Pilsen “insulting” and said they showed how “disconnected” she is from problems posed by the gentrification that has “eroded” the neighborhood’s cultural identity.

A coalition of Pilsen community leaders sent a letter Friday to Lightfoot asking for a meeting to discuss “solutions to create a model for balanced development that will yield more affordability.”

On Friday, Lightfoot contended her remarks about Pilsen’s resurgence were “not fulsome” and she never meant to belittle the problems faced by longtime residents, many of them working-class Mexican American people, being priced out by new development.

“We are living with a history of development — whether it’s housing or otherwise — happening in neighborhoods without any intentionality around that. And what that’s led to is displacement. I absolutely understand and appreciate the concern and the sensitivity around this issue in Pilsen and other neighborhoods,” she said.

“When their neighborhood’s fortunes change, that can’t mean that long-term residents are displaced. That’s happened in way too many neighborhoods, Pilsen being one of them. I understand that. That’s why we have intentionally moved in another direction.”

Lightfoot said she is determined to “learn the lessons from the past” and make certain “long-term residents can remain in their neighborhoods” even after developers move in.

“We’re doing the same thing in Woodlawn. We’re trying to undo some of the damage along The 606. That is the mantra that we brought into office because that’s what I campaigned on. Development doesn’t have to mean displacement. We’ve got a track record of demonstrating that,” she said.

“If there are concerns, we will address them. But what we’ve been doing about engaging with community residents on the front end to address — whether it’s housing stresses, rental properties, making sure that the city uses its power and resources on vacant properties and development — I think we’ve got a good track record.”

Sigcho-Lopez replaced disgraced former Ald. Danny Solis (25th), the longtime Zoning Committee chairman, who wore a wire and helped the feds build their corruption case against indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

The rookie alderman campaigned on a promise to stop developers from pushing out longtime residents.

The coalition’s letter said 10,000 residents, most of them Mexican people, have “either been displaced and/or left the neighborhood voluntarily” in recent years. That’s prompted a 40 percent decline in enrollment of students between kindergarten and eighth grade.

“We can no longer stomach displacement of families and the erosion of the character of the community. Longtime residents and stakeholders who witnessed and suffered through the worst times should be able to [age] in place and not be displaced by rising property taxes and deceitful developers,” the letter stated.

“If our community is to remain vibrant for everyone, we need to act with urgency to prevent any more lifelong residents from being forced out. … Pilsen is at this pivotal moment. The city needs to work with Pilsen stakeholders and residents to create and preserve more family affordable housing to diminish the displacement.”

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