Segregation | Bleader | Chicago Reader


Monday, July 23, 2018

Study: Aldermanic prerogative is reinforcing Chicago’s segregation problem

Posted By on 07.23.18 at 06:00 AM

Aldermen Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) and Nicholas Sposato (38th) at a 2017 City Council meeting. Napolitano recently invoked aldermanic prerogative to block an affordable housing proposal in his northwest-side ward. - BRIAN JACKSON/SUN-TIMES
  • Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
  • Aldermen Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) and Nicholas Sposato (38th) at a 2017 City Council meeting. Napolitano recently invoked aldermanic prerogative to block an affordable housing proposal in his northwest-side ward.

A new study published by the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance claims that "aldermanic prerogative"—a customary practice that isn't articulated anywhere in city law—is being used to reinforce the boundaries of Chicago's historically segregated communities.

Aldermanic prerogative is a longstanding tradition: If a local alderman objects to a development in her ward, other aldermen will reject that development as well. The same is true when an alderman champions a particular development in his ward. According to the study, aldermen can use this power to make their ward unappealing for affordable housing development and ultimately reject inclusive housing proposals.

"It's not just influence, it's the power to kill a project." says Kate Walz, vice president of advocacy at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and a contributor to the study. "[Developers] said it wasn't even worth the effort in many wards because there's a high cost associated with planning and it can be quickly scuttled by the alderman."

The report also highlights aldermen's power to "downzone" in their wards. Downzoning occurs when an area is assigned a lower development density than previously permitted, meaning developers can only propose housing within that limit. Downzoning constrains the number of housing units that a property could bring to the ward, thereby "artificially [limiting] the supply of dwelling units, inflating both housing and land costs in a neighborhood and eliminating the financial feasibility of affordable housing on a broader basis," the study claims. Walz adds that once an area gets downzoned, "developers are put back into the aldermanic machine."

Local zoning committees created by aldermen and made up of homeowners in the ward can also limit and revise proposed plans for affordable housing, forcing developers to invest in new architectural plans and zoning requests. The study argues that aldermanic control over zoning policy has resulted in the disproportionate use of downzoning in predominantly white wards, citing that 55% of all downzonings since 1970 have happened in 14 majority-white wards.

"Since 1970, the average majority-white ward has downzoned or landmarked 0.46 square feet of space for every remaining foot of multifamily zoning in their wards," states the study, whereas "wards with a majority-black and/or Latinx population have downzoned 0.09 square feet for every remaining foot of multifamily zoning [in] their wards" over the same span of time. The use of downzoning in predominantly white and low-poverty wards has created a hostile environment for inclusive housing proposals—particularly affordable family housing—the study claims.

Developers who want to build it thus focus their attention on the few wards that are "safer bets—areas where affordable housing has previously been approved." In segregated Chicago, this means housing suitable for lower-income families is concentrated in lower-income black and Latinx wards.

"On its face, this does not seem problematic," says Patricia Fron, executive director of the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, "but when we look at it from a historical perspective, it is very clear that the prerogative has been used to restrict access to white communities out of anti-black racism."

The study claims that at the heart of aldermanic prerogative is political reputation. Whether it's dealing with developers, constituents, or even the mayor, aldermen must "navigate a clamor of interests . . . compelling many aldermen to do not what is best for the city of even their ward but what will least damage their . . . chances of reelection."

In a July 17 letter to the Chicago Tribune, Michael Sullivan seemed to confirm this point when he argued against the study's claims. He writes that aldermanic prerogative helps homeowners keep their alderman accountable. "No one should have any zoning authority in my neighborhood except my alderman," Sullivan writes, "Let my alderman wear the collar for the zoning decisions in my ward. Then I can reward or punish him at the ballot box."

The study also claims that the result of constituent influence over zoning and development through aldermanic prerogative is "a culture where aldermen in predominantly white and low-poverty areas erect barriers to affordable housing to preserve the status quo."

Meanwhile, other wards have to build more than their equitable share of affordable housing "because, if it is not built in their wards, it will not be built at all." Fron adds that this struggle to accommodate affordable housing means "the city is unable to fulfill its civil rights obligations."

"This is a matter of constituents controlling the look of the neighborhood, the racial makeup," says Walz. "There is a practice here of essentially not voting, of deferring to the vote of one alderman out of 50. It is depriving the city of Chicago of a fair and objective process. It is allowing one person, or someone under the influence of their constituents, to make that decision, and that appears to be an unlawful delegation of power over land use and zoning in the city of Chicago."  v

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Chicago's civic and business elite put on epic display of wokeness, roll out racial equity plan

Posted By on 05.15.18 at 07:48 PM

Two students at Farragut High School during the 1963 Chicago Freedom Day boycott of school segregation - SUN TIMES PRINT COLLECTION
  • Sun Times Print Collection
  • Two students at Farragut High School during the 1963 Chicago Freedom Day boycott of school segregation

While it's become quite common for social-justice-oriented community groups to begin their events with an acknowledgment that the panel/forum/workshop is taking place on land once violently usurped by white colonists from this or that Native American tribe, the practice hasn't yet become typical of more mainstream civic circles. But on Tuesday morning, as the Metropolitan Planning Council unveiled an extensive new report detailing strategies for achieving racial equity in the Chicago region, MPC vice president Marisa Novara emphasized that the conversation about remedying segregation must begin at the beginning.

"We recognize that discussing people of color in the simple binary of African-Americans and Latinos is incomplete," Novara told dozens of local government officials, business executives, and community leaders who packed the Gallery Guichard in Bronzeville. "Where we stand today is the traditional homeland of the Ho-Chunk and other Native Americans who've lived in the Chicago area for over 10,000 years and continue to today. And we name colonialism and the removal of indigenous people as some of the earliest acts of segregation and discrimination in this country."

With that, a series of speakers and panels touted progress in racial equity efforts by local government, corporations, and nonprofits; discussed shortcomings; and outlined visions for a more integrated future in all aspects of life in Chicago.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

The life and death of Laverne Williams

Posted By on 04.26.18 at 06:00 AM

A family in West Garfield Park in 1983 - BOB BLACK
  • Bob Black
  • A family in West Garfield Park in 1983

Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Laverne Williams would have turned 50 years old this year. But she was killed by a fire in her West Garfield Park apartment on January 27, 1988, when she was just 19. Before she died, she managed to pass her two younger children through the window to her brother, who was standing outside in the alley. They were badly burned, but they survived.

At the funeral, mourners talked about how devoted Laverne had been to her kids. "Laverne, she always watched her kids," said her mother, Gloria. "If she didn't have nobody to watch 'em and she goin' somewhere, she'd take 'em with. The ones who go off and leave 'em, ain't nothin' happen to them."

Steve Bogira's story about Laverne's death, "A Fire in the Family," was ostensibly about the high incidence of fires in West Garfield Park: many apartment buildings were old and uncared-for, and residents had to resort to portable heaters and leaving ovens and stoves on to stay warm in the winter. It was, in fact, a kerosene heater that had caused the fire that killed Laverne Williams. But the story very quickly expanded into something much more.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

While Twitter followed the campaign of @MayorEmanuel in 2011, Steve Bogira took a serious look at segregation

Posted By on 02.26.18 at 09:00 AM

The Frances Cabrini row houses on the near north side - DAVID SCHALLIOL
  • David Schalliol
  • The Frances Cabrini row houses on the near north side

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

I was going to write about the @MayorEmanuel Twitter feed, which ended its glorious run almost exactly seven years ago this past weekend with the fictional Rahm getting sucked into a time vortex.
And Twitter fell into deep mourning.

But although @MayorEmanuel was the work of Dan Sinker, a Reader alum, no one knew it at the time, and the Reader itself didn't have much to say about that great work of Twitter fiction until about a week afterward, after Sinker was unmasked, and then about six months later when it was released as a book.

Then I realized that one of the biggest lessons of the past seven years is that Twitter is mostly a distraction from the bigger issues at hand. (This lesson comes courtesy of our current president.) So while @MayorEmanuel was delighting Chicagoans with his adventures around the city with his faithful companions Quaxelrod the duck, Hambone the dog, and Carl the Intern, Rahm Emanuel was conducting a real-life mayoral campaign that ignored one of the biggest issue facing our city: segregation.

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Friday, January 5, 2018

How’s Chicago supposed to desegregate when developments with affordable housing can be blocked by aldermen on a whim?

Posted By on 01.05.18 at 06:17 PM

Rendering of the proposed apartment building at 8535 W. Higgins Road. It would've been mostly luxury "micro units," but also include 30 affordable apartments. - COURTESY OF GLENSTAR
  • Courtesy of GlenStar
  • Rendering of the proposed apartment building at 8535 W. Higgins Road. It would've been mostly luxury "micro units," but also include 30 affordable apartments.

Luxury apartment buildings in Chicago are built typically in neighborhoods with no shortage of well-to-do renters or in working-class parts of town where they serve as a vehicle for gentrification. Though the city's Affordable Requirements Ordinance is meant to stem the drain of reasonably priced rental housing, developers have all too often elected to pay a fee in place of setting aside 10 percent of their units as affordable for people making 60 percent or less of the area median income. Most aldermen hardly put up a fight when developers do this, eager to see any kind of economic stimulus in their wards, especially if it promises to bring in higher-income constituents. This only goes to reinforce segregation in the city, as formerly affordable neighborhoods fall out of reach for working-class people and high-opportunity areas remain hopelessly closed off to lower-income households. Which is why the story of a planned 297-unit apartment building at 8535 W. Higgins near O'Hare is a curious one.

The ten-acre site sits in the mostly white 41st Ward, across the highway from the Cumberland Blue Line stop. Plans have been in motion since 2015 to develop some commercial and residential buildings there. Located in one of Chicago's major job centers—adjacent to the airport, as well as malls, hotels, and office parks—the area nevertheless lacks rental housing, both for young professionals and for minimum-wage workers. To GlenStar, a developer specializing in upscale commercial and residential properties, building mostly studio and one-bedroom units alongside two new office buildings on the site seemed like a good idea. Over the course of the last year, with a blessing from the 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Committee and Alderman Anthony Napolitano (currently Chicago's only Republican alderman), GlenStar worked to fine-tune its proposal to Department of Planning and Development specifications. They even committed to making 30 units on site affordable, in full compliance with the letter and spirit of the ARO. However, last spring, the alderman suddenly abandoned his support of the development shortly after controversy erupted over a planned affordable-housing building in nearby Jefferson Park. GlenStar hasn't gotten a satisfactory explanation from Napolitano about his change of heart. It also hasn't received a zoning hearing in City Council that's required to move forward with construction. The saga of this planned development, which has played out in e-mail exchanges obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, as well as at public meetings and in the press, is yet another lesson in how Chicago-style democracy continues to reinforce segregation and class divides across the city.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

New study finds segregation costs Chicago billions in income, tens of thousands of college degrees, and hundreds of lives each year

Posted By on 03.28.17 at 12:01 AM

The remaining rowhouses of the Cabrini-Green public housing development stand empty as a new upscale apartment building is erected nearby. - RICH HEIN/SUN-TIMES
  • Rich Hein/Sun-Times
  • The remaining rowhouses of the Cabrini-Green public housing development stand empty as a new upscale apartment building is erected nearby.

A new study released Tuesday by the Metropolitan Planning Council found that Chicago-area segregation is costing the regional economy more than $4 billion in lost income, 83,000 college degrees, and hundreds of lives lost to homicides each year. The nonprofit urban planning and development group hopes to stimulate new policy solutions by demonstrating how racial and economic segregation leaves everyone in Chicagoland worse off, not just the people living in segregated areas.

The study was undertaken together with researchers from the Urban Institute and analyzed U.S. Census data going back to 1990 as well as economic indicators. It found that among the country's 100 largest metropolitan areas, Chicagoland is the tenth-most segregated region for African-Americans, the ninth-most segregated for Latinos, and the 20th-most economically segregated metro area. The authors also found that Chicagoland lags far behind metropolitan areas with comparable demographics in its rate of desegregation. Though white-black segregation in the area is declining by about 10 percent every 20 years, at the current rate it would take us until 2070 to reach today's national median levels.

"With lost income, lives, and potential on the line, we don't have that kind of time," the report states. "We need more deliberate interventions to accelerate our progress."

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Eviction filings in Chicago appear to be on the decline

Posted By on 03.22.17 at 04:44 PM

An eviction in process in 2011 - JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES
  • John Moore/Getty Images
  • An eviction in process in 2011

"How many evictions take place in Chicago every year?" is a simple question without an easy answer.

When the Reader began reporting on evictions in December, we found that the last comprehensive study of Cook County eviction court was conducted in 2003 and that data about eviction court proceedings isn't systematically reported by any county agency. Furthermore, in contrast to foreclosure-related information, there's a dearth of information about eviction trends in the county over time.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

How do you stop whitewashing Chicago theater?

Posted By on 08.11.16 at 12:30 PM

Laurence Olivier (l) and Laurence Fishburne as Othello. - SUN-TIMES ARCHIVE
  • Sun-Times Archive
  • Laurence Olivier (l) and Laurence Fishburne as Othello.

Nearly 300 members of the Chicago theater community gathered at a town hall meeting  at Victory Gardens Theater Tuesday night to discuss the problem of a lack of roles for performers of color and why, despite the many black, Latino, and Asian actors in Chicago, some of these roles still go to white actors.

The meeting was precipitated by Porchlight Theatre's announcement last week that it had cast a non-Latino actor in the lead role of Usnavi in its upcoming production of Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda's 2007 musical In the Heights.

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Director Tod Lending discusses racial segregation in Chicago and his new documentary All the Difference

Posted By on 08.05.16 at 05:55 PM

All the Difference
  • All the Difference

Tod Lending's documentary All the Difference, which is set in Chicago and screens this weekend at the 22nd annual Black Harvest Film Festival, is an inspirational account of black male ambition and perseverance in the face of some harsh statistics. According to information presented in the documentary, in Chicago's most underprivileged communities, only about 50 percent of young black men graduate from high school; of those who do graduate, fewer than half will go on to college, and even fewer will graduate from college within four to six years.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

What does it mean to be a white ally?

Posted By on 07.21.16 at 05:02 PM

Demonstrators protest outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home on December 29, 2015. - SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES
  • Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • Demonstrators protest outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home on December 29, 2015.

A line of white people snaked around the entrance of Saint Agatha's Catholic Church in North Lawndale Wednesday. Inside the sanctuary the Chicago chapter of Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) was convening the first in a series of workshops called "Ally Is a Verb: Finding Your Role in the Movement for Black Liberation."

There had been such immense interest in the event that SURJ had to cap attendance at 200 people and convene a second, simultaneous workshop for another 80 people in Wicker Park.

The Chicago chapter of SURJ is part of a national network that aims to educate and mobilize white people "to act as part of a multiracial majority for justice with passion and accountability"—in other words, to bring white people into conversations about racism and their roles in perpetuating it, and mobilize them to collaborate with nonwhite people working to counteract racial injustice. Founded in response to racist backlash in the wake of Barack Obama's election, many SURJ chapters have transitioned from education- to action-oriented work since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson almost two years ago. This workshop was intended to prompt white people to grapple with their privilege and explore ways they could participate in the movement for racial justice.

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