Gentrification is affecting housing in the U.S. In Chicago, families are organizing for solutions. Marguerite Casey Foundation is co-publishing this story, which first appeared in La Raza, as part of its partnership with ImpreMedia, a national media organization.
Gentrification is a process of exclusion and displacement. Not simply an individual process where people with money and resources move to poor communities, it is also a system that leaves the door open to investors who are attempting to profit.
This is what was explained by Norma Rios Sierra, a mother and president of Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), a community organization of families in Chicago who are attempting to fight for housing opportunities and against gentrification.
“I grew up in Logan Square,” Rios Sierra said over the phone. “It has always been a community-based area. We all know each other, and our children always played together.”
One sign of success among families who are trying to improve their quality of life is purchasing a home and building community. Home ownership allows a higher level of security and stability, but most of all it creates the opportunity for people to pass property on to their children. For decades, home ownership has been central to the American dream for thousands of families.
“Our community has always had problems,” Rios Sierra said. “But first and foremost, it was safe for our families. We took care of one another, and there was a sense of belonging.”
Rios Sierra has lived in this community for several decades, and her family has owned their home for almost 30 years. They’ve had the chance to establish a social network that cannot be recreated just anywhere – something that cannot be bought with luxury apartments and that doesn’t exist without strong roots.
This sense of community, residents say, is being threatened and ripped apart through gentrification. According to local activists, cash purchase of low-cost housing and quick remodeling, or “flipping” is earning investors a lot of money – but at what cost?
“It is hard for families to make ends meet and cover basic expenses,” Rios Sierra said. “Property taxes go up, and salaries stay low. On top of that, our friends and neighbors have been forced to leave this area.”
According to census reports, between 2000 and 2014, over 19,200 Latino residents moved – a reduction of 35.6 percent; the number of African American residents were reduced by 8.2 percent. Additionally, according to the LSNA, a surge in development has resulted in the building of 1,000 luxury units in 2017, another of the main reasons for the increase in rents and expenses.
The exodus of thousands of families has left properties vacant and open for investors. These vacant properties have created an opportunity for those who are searching for an answer to the housing crisis.
“Investors paying cash can purchase a property in a couple of weeks. It takes no less than a month for a typical family to obtain a basic loan,” said Jennie Fronczack, the director of development for Chicago-based LUCHA, an organization that seeks to create a community land trust. “This is a model designed to ensure that the community maintains control over the lands and that the wealth and earnings are returned to the community.”
It is a model of trust and collective earnings.
“The community becomes the owner of the lands, but the agency can sell the houses and maintain prices in balance with the needs of local families,” Fronczack said.
These houses are sold directly to low-income families who qualify for loans. They sell them at competitive market prices – but can have control over who purchases them, and in conjunction with the city and the government, they can impose regulations as to what they can do with the properties.
This means that an investor who seeks only to sell the house to profit will not qualify, and it would be designated specifically for families.
Juan Arrieta grew up in Logan Square, and he has been directly involved in the creation of the trust. He remembers the first demonstration he participated in: “Emmet Street Affordable Housing March,” where they marched along with local Chicago organizations because investors sought to convert a parking lot into luxury apartments. LSNA proposed converting the lot into low-income housing for families.
“This demonstration helped us undertake a local survey, where we found that 85 percent of the community supports the building of accessible housing,” said Arrieta. “People want to stay here. They don’t want to leave.”
Arrieta married recently, and with such high prices, he does not see an opportunity to buy a house.
“The trust will be designed to keep families together,” he said. “My wife and I want to buy here, in our community. Together, as a community, we can achieve it.”
Marguerite Casey Foundation is co-publishing this story, which originally appeared in La Raza, as part of its ongoing partnership with ImpreMedia, a national media organization that includes: La Opinión, in Los Angeles; La Raza in Chicago; El Diario in New York City; and La Prensa in Orlando. Armando Carmona wrote this for La Raza.