Neighborhood organizations calling for a community benefits agreement with the Obama Presidential Center gained two prominent allies Wednesday as the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana joined the effort.
Michael Brunson, recording secretary of the teachers union, said an agreement would ensure that promises are kept not only by the Obama Foundation but also by the city.
“Mayor Emanuel has failed to leverage development for people who already live in the South and West Side neighborhoods,” Brunson said. “The sad reality is that we cannot trust Emanuel to keep his word and we cannot trust him with this project unless agreements are codified into law.”
The Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and South Side Together Organizing for Power, among others, were in negotiations with the two unions for a few weeks before the deal was finalized.
Community organizations have said for the past two years that a community benefits agreement would ensure affordable housing, jobs and proper job training that would be included with plans for the Obama Presidential Center.
Jawanza Malone, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, said rents and property values have increased in Woodlawn, signaling the increased need for an agreement.
“If we don’t take the bull by the horns and seize this opportunity to lift up what’s important to our communities, and have this put into writing, we’re going to continue to see what we’ve been getting,” Malone said.
Last month, former President Barack Obama said that he would not sign such an agreement because it would not represent all community stakeholders.
Since then, the movement for an agreement has gathered steam.
Kenwood Oakland and other groups announced they would try to get the agreement passed through city hall so they could have a legally binding document with the Obama Foundation.
Linda Haywood, who has lived in Woodlawn for 17 years, said that people are “stressed and scared about what the center means for their housing. The unions’ support was a good step forward, she said.
“People are misinterpreting us. We want the Obama Center, but we don’t want to be put out,” Haywood said. “I’ve been put out before, I’ve been homeless, and now I have to protect my home.”
The addition of the unions to the nearly 20 groups aligned for a benefits agreement was seen as a good step forward by the organizations present. The next steps for the agreement are still being fine-tuned, but they’re making sure “all the ducks are in a row,” Malone said, so when an ordinance is introduced before the aldermen, it is as strong as possible.
Greg Kelly, president of SEIU, said the agreement is “not only sensible, but necessary.”
“The center creates an opportunity to continue to advocate for solid communities,” Kelly said. “There are wealthy interests in this city that are salivating at the opportunity to displace and develop entire communities surrounding this project. This moment is an opportunity to commit to all the people in these communities.”