New ordinance aims to protect Woodlawn residents amid Obama Center construction

“We see the importance of this community in the future of Chicago and we want to make sure that we are being a partner to this community in shaping what happens here going forward,” Chicago Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.

SHARE New ordinance aims to protect Woodlawn residents amid Obama Center construction
A rendering of the planned Obama Presidential Center, which is scheduled to be built in Chicago’s Jackson Park.

A rendering of the planned Obama Presidential Center, which is scheduled to be built in Chicago’s Jackson Park.

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After more than a year of negotiations, setbacks and compromises, a new ordinance will be introduced to Chicago’s City Council on Wednesday that aims to protect Woodlawn residents from displacement with the impending construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

“There’s a unique history and future in Woodlawn,” Chicago Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “We see the importance of this community in the future of Chicago and we want to make sure that we are being a partner to this community in shaping what happens here going forward.”

The city currently owns 208 vacant residential lots in Woodlawn. The ordinance stipulates that 30% of any future housing developments on 52 of those lots — 25% — must be affordable to people who make 30% to 50% of the area’s median income. Novara said that, for a family of four, 30% of the area’s median income is about $25,000.

The 30% benchmark will no longer be in effect after 20 years, she added.

Alds. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and Leslie Hairston (5th), whose wards encompass the neighborhood, could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but the Daily Line reported that both support the measure and will cosponsor the ordinance when it’s introduced.

Maintaining affordable housing and ensuring residents won’t be forced out of the neighborhood have been sticking points since Jackson Park was selected as the future home of the Obama Center.

Last month, residents and activists — who were calling for a community benefits agreement — erected a tent city in a vacant lot at 63rd and Blackstone. They were demanding that 75% of city-owned vacant lots in Woodlawn be set aside for affordable housing for the area’s longtime residents. Last year, they were calling for all vacant lots to be set aside for affordable housing.

The ordinance also makes clear that a primary goal is “to create jobs and economic opportunities for, and promote the economic participation of Woodlawn residents and businesses in, the growth and development of their community.”

Novara said there will be sit-down meetings between the city, aldermanic offices and developers to ensure that locals get a bite at the apple when it comes time to begin construction. She added that there have already been discussions on how to ensure that Woodlawn residents would be hired for permanent jobs that will be created once the Obama Center is opened.

“Property management, building engineers, things of that nature,” Novara said. “I think there’s a lot of ways that we can be more proactive in ensuring that we’re training people and connecting people for those kinds of jobs.”

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