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Lightfoot accused of ‘smoke-and-mirrors’ plan for Woodlawn that ‘doesn’t protect anybody’ from Obama Center displacement

Rookie Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) is angered by Lightfoot’s decision to draft watered-down protections for Woodlawn instead of negotiating changes to the community benefits ordinance backed by Taylor and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).

Rookie Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) tells a City Hall news conference on Wednesday that she is furious about Lightfoot’s plan to draft her own, watered-down protection plan for Woodlawn instead of using the community benefits ordinance Taylor introduced last summer as a starting point for negotiations.
Rookie Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) tells a City Hall news conference Wednesday that she is furious about Lightfoot’s plan to draft her own, watered-down protection plan for Woodlawn instead of using the community benefits ordinance Taylor introduced last summer as a starting point for negotiations.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was accused Wednesday of offering a “smoke-and-mirrors” plan for Woodlawn that “doesn’t protect anybody” from being displaced by the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

“People are being displaced while we play games,” an angry Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) told a City Hall news conference, where she was flanked by Woodlawn residents fearful of being pushed out by the $500 million development.

“It’s just smoke and mirrors. You wasted my [time] and my community’s time” with what Taylor called “BS.”

“She thinks she does not have to listen to me and she does not have to work with me. … So I’m gonna fight her and everybody else on making sure this doesn’t pass.”

Taylor is livid about Lightfoot’s decision to draft her own watered-down protections for Woodlawn, instead of coming to the table and negotiating changes to the community benefits ordinance introduced last summer by Taylor and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).

“You take advantage of the new alderman who doesn’t really know the process and you introduce what you want to introduce?” Taylor said.

Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara promised to “look at the CBA ordinance, talk about the things we agree on, fix the things that we don’t and then, we could reintroduce,” Taylor said.

“I was never told that they were gonna rewrite their own housing ordinance. I would never have agreed” to that, Taylor said.

“We’re very smart, competent folks. We can come up with our own plan for our own community. The CBA coalition did a referendum. They got over 98% of the people to say what they wanted in this ordinance. So why is the city not doing what they said they were gonna do?”

Even worse than what she called a duplicitous process, Taylor said, is the substance of the Lightfoot administration’s counterproposal.

Instead of protecting the area within a two-mile radius of the Obama Center, it applies to a much smaller radius: five-eighths of a mile.

There is no plan to triple the affordable housing set-side requirement from 10% to 30%.

In fact, Taylor said, the “only thing we agree on” is the demand that residents have a “right of first refusal” to purchase the buildings they live in before they are sold to private developers.

Woodlawn residents fearful of being displaced by the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park join their Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) at a City Hall news conference on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.
Woodlawn residents fearful of being displaced by the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park join their Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) at a City Hall news conference on Wednesday.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

“What happens to the people who are retired who own their homes that are gonna be property taxed out? What happens to the … voucher holders? Their voucher is for $1,500. What happens when this landlord comes back and says your rent is gonna be $2,000? Do you think these families can afford an additional $500? I don’t think so. This doesn’t protect anybody,” she said.

“Look at the color of the people they’re supposed to be protecting. … If this was anywhere else, there would not be a conversation.”

Reminded that Lightfoot is African American, Taylor said: “Just because you black don’t mean you black. … Where does she live? Where did she grow up?”

The Housing Department responded to Taylor’s tirade by saying it has been meeting with “neighborhood stakeholders and elected officials” for months to make certain that “diverse perspectives are considered in the development of affordable housing protections” for the Woodlawn area.

Those conversations are continuing with an eye toward drafting “well-rounded legislation that will preserve access to housing for low- and middle-income residents in the area and ensure equitable, inclusive growth.”

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

On the day the ordinance was introduced, she told reporters she was “not up to speed” on its specific protections. But, she acknowledged it is important for the city to “respect the rights of the people living in that community” who are “feeling neglected by the efforts so far.”

Taylor wants to go back to the bargaining table, starting with the CBA ordinance, and find a way to meet in the middle.

“I ain’t saying ‘all or nothing.’ I ain’t foolish enough to think that,” she said.

“But while they’re wasting time, my community is being gentrified and people are being put out.”