Chicagoans with disabilities inflamed over Chicago Fire’s West Side deal

The group says turning a 26-acre site on the Near West Side into a soccer training facility will make it harder for those with disabilities to find housing.

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Rod Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, speaks at a news conference in the Loop where advocates for people with disabilities and public housing rallied against a plan to build a soccer training facility on a West Side site that used to hold public housing. 

Rod Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, speaks at a news conference in the Loop where advocates for people with disabilities and public housing rallied against a plan to build a soccer training facility on a Near West Side site that used to hold public housing.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Laura Donaldson sat in her wheelchair in the Loop on Wednesday with a message for someone in the shimmering office towering behind her: “My people need their health and independence, my people need their housing.”

The West Side resident was among several dozen people — some also in wheelchairs — gathered outside Morningstar Inc.’s office, 22 W. Washington St., to protest founder Joe Mansueto’s plan to build an $80 million training facility for his Chicago Fire soccer team on a former public housing site. 

“Just because it was offered to you, doesn’t mean you have to take it,” Donaldson said.

Laura Donaldson, 54, sits in her wheel chair outside the offices of Morningstar, 22 W. Washington Street, where disability and public housing advocates gathered to protest founder Joe Mansueto’s plan to build a facility on a 26-acre Near West Side site that used to be hold public housing.

Laura Donaldson, 54, outside the offices of Morningstar Inc.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

Mansueto, owner of the Chicago Fire, received approval from the City Council in September to build a training facility on the nearly 26-acre site. The group’s protest was spurred by a $25,000 contribution by Mansueto to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign fund.

“Joe Mansueto believes and invests in Chicago. He brought the Chicago Fire Football Club back into the city and is committed to making a significant investment on the historically underfunded West Side,” said a spokesperson for Mansueto.

“He has also spearheaded The Terminal in Humboldt Park, the North Austin Community Center and numerous projects in underserved communities throughout the city.”

The Chicago Sun-Times receives funding from the Mansueto Foundation.

Donaldson, an organizer for disability advocacy nonprofit Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, and others argued that building a soccer facility on the site instead of public housing ignores how difficult it remains for people to find public housing.

“It took me years to get housing. It should not take anyone that long,” Donaldson said. “It is disproportionately hard for people with disabilities to get housing.”

The 54-year-old said she has cerebral palsy, has used a wheelchair her entire life and after her mother died was homeless for years before the Chicago Housing Authority could find her appropriate housing.

“CHA fully agrees that more resources are needed to address the need for affordable housing in Chicago and around the nation, including for accessible units,” said a CHA spokesperson in response.

“CHA is a major housing provider of people with disabilities. Roughly 35 percent of families in our housing programs report at least one household member as having a disability of some kind.”

Donaldson spoke briefly at a news conference held on the street outside the firm’s office, where the group hoped to reach Mansueto to deliver a letter asking him to reconsider the training center plan.

“We’re here to make sure to let them know we’re not going to accept this,” said Roderick Wilson, executive director of the community organization Lugenia Burns Hope Center. “We should have some say in what happens to this land.” 

Xochitl Esparza, 25, stands in front of the offices of financial services firm Morningstar, 22 W. Washington St., where disability and public housing advocates gathered to oppose a plan to build a soccer training facility on a West Side site that used to hold public housing.

Xochitl Esparza, 25, was among the disability and public housing advocates opposed to building a soccer training facility on a Near West Side site that used to hold public housing.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

Wilson concluded the news conference by saying, “Put the fire out, bring the housing in.”

The group then moved off the sidewalk and into the street to obstruct traffic.

“This is our land, these are our streets,” they chanted.

Donna Thadison, 62, holds a sign protesting a plan to build a soccer training facility on the site of former public housing on the West Side.

Donna Thadison, 62, protests a plan to build a soccer training facility on the site of former public housing on the Near West Side.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Nabi Yisrael, 48, rode in his wheelchair, keeping abreast with several others headed toward State Street.

“I had to fight in order to find housing for myself,” said the Hyde Park resident, who experiences multiple sclerosis and, like Donaldson, said the Chicago Housing Authority took years to find him appropriate housing.

“Being a human being is hard enough, but being Black with disabilities, that’s almost impossible.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

Nabi Yisrael, 48, sits in his wheelchair outside Morningstar, 22 W. Washington St., where disability and public advocates gathered to protest a plan to build a soccer training facility on a former public housing site on the West Side. 

Nabi Yisrael, 48, protested Wednesday outside Morningstar Inc.’s headquarters at 22 W. Washington St.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

Editor’s note: This article was updated to include a response from Joe Mansueto.

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