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Woodlawn residents hold sit-in outside mayor’s office to press for community benefits ordinance

Four members of Southside Together Organizing for Power had a 20-minute meeting with Lightfoot’s chief of staff Maurice Classen and legislative affairs chief Samantha Fields.

Members of Southside Together Organizing for Power held a sit-in outside Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office Tuesday.
Members of Southside Together Organizing for Power held a sit-in outside Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office Tuesday.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Woodlawn residents fearful of being displaced by the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park staged a sit-in outside the mayor’s office Tuesday to pressure Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deliver the community benefits ordinance she promised during the campaign.

At the request of local Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), four members of Southside Together Organizing for Power held a 20-minute meeting with Lightfoot’s chief of staff Maurice Classen and legislative affairs chief Samantha Fields.

But STOP Executive Director Alex Goldenberg emerged from the meeting no happier than he was when he went in.

As a result, the sit-in blocking the entrance to the mayor’s office continued. At one point, a police officer threatened to arrest protesters for blocking a fire exit. No arrests were made. The Chicago Teachers Union ordered pizza for the protesters.

Later, police officers were stationed at all restrooms in the building; officers told people trying to use them that they were closed. That forced the protesters to leave if they wished to use the toilet.

“They’re hearing us, but still not listening to us. They’re realizing the urgency of addressing the issue. But they had nothing concrete to offer,” Goldenberg said.

Woodlawn residents are upset about Lightfoot’s decision to draft her own watered-down protections for Woodlawn instead of negotiating changes to the community benefits ordinance Taylor introduced last summer along with Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).

Instead of protecting the area within two miles of the Obama Center, it applies to just five-eighths of a mile. There is no plan to triple the city’s affordable housing set-aside requirement from 10% to 30%.

“The main sticking point is how affordability gets defined. Will it be real affordability? They’re not sharing what those numbers are. We want to make sure that people making $25,000 and $40,000 a year can afford to live in the community,” Goldenberg said.

“A 30% set-aside is also absolutely needed, and we’re continuing to demand it. They’re continuing to stonewall us on that.”

Last week, Taylor accused the mayor of offering a “smoke-and-mirrors” plan for Woodlawn that “doesn’t protect anybody.” But Taylor dialed down the rhetoric after breaking the ice at a face-to-face meeting with Lightfoot on Monday.

How did the mayor respond to the alderman’s harsh criticism?

“She was like, ‘You’ve got my number. You could have called me. I wish we would talk.’ I agree with her. You’re absolutely right. Let’s have that open line of communication. So I made a commitment to her and she made one to me that we would talk more,” Taylor said.

“When I don’t like something, I can say it direct to her. I’m not going through commissioners now. That’s better for me. I hear it from the horse’s mouth.”

Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to hammer out a community benefits agreement to protect area residents.

Asked whether the mayor was prepared to honor that promise, Taylor said, “They’re just not willing to call it that. But it looks like it’s gonna be” the same thing by a different name.

About an hour later, Taylor arrived at the mayor’s office to deliver the news that she had arranged a meeting between the protesters and the mayor’s staff.

“The hardest problem with this is, we don’t trust the city. We just don’t. So they wanted to hear for themselves,” Taylor said.

Taylor said she still hasn’t seen the mayor’s ordinance and has no idea whether it will be introduced next week. She hopes not.

“I’ve asked the administration to slow down until we see the details and I hear from my community. ... My vote will be contingent on what the people in my community say,” the alderman said.

Without naming Rahm Emanuel, Taylor accused “other administrations” of creating the controversy by giving former President Barack Obama carte blanche. Emanuel served as Obama’s first White House chief of staff.

“They gave them that land for 99 years for $10. There was not a conversation with the community about this,” Taylor said.

“Now that we’re in a position to say, ‘Hey, let’s make sure the people don’t get displaced,’ it’s upon this administration and myself to do just that. We’re working on it.”

The mayor’s office responded to the sit-in by saying the Lightfoot administration has worked closely with local aldermen and Woodlawn residents to “craft a solution that will prevent displacement, invest $10 million in affordable housing and other supports, and provide continued opportunities for economic growth” with “no unintended consequences for the community.”

Noting that 15 meetings have been held with Woodlawn “stakeholders,” the mayor’s office statement said, “It’s a result of this extensive engagement, this administration has put together a series of specific affordable housing-related proposals which are designed to help homeowners, renters and stabilize housing options for the Woodlawn community. Many of these proposals mirror requests by the CBA coalition.”