No Bait, No Switch | Letters | Chicago Reader

No Bait, No Switch 

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Dear editors:

A casual reading of the July 26 Neighborhood News article, "Bait and Switch," may leave you wondering why a 125-year-old community agency is actively deceiving its immediate community. Erie Neighborhood House is situated in the West Town community area, just minutes from the Loop. Author Ben Joravsky's description of our neighborhood, "where property values are starting to rise," sorely minimizes the degree of change that market forces have brought to bear on this community. Over the last 15 years rents have soared nearly 400 percent. A recent Sun-Times study listed West Town as having the fourth greatest increase in all of Chicago of median home-selling price, a 48 percent increase in the last 5 years. Hundreds of families with 20 to 30 years of community roots and relationships have been uprooted and forced to negotiate a new existence in an unfamiliar neighborhood. In the context of this gentrification, Erie's innovative solution to meet the needs of longtime residents is a drop in the bucket.

Erie Neighborhood House never intentionally deceived the community as the article suggests. Mr. Joravsky wrote that Erie House made changes to their cooperative housing structure after the city had offered us "more money" through federal tax credits, as if it were a carrot dangled in front of us that we eagerly snatched up. Tax credits did not represent "more money" but simply a different source of funding which the city compelled us to accept and which we never wanted because it would defer ownership for 15 years. We never felt this deferment represented a fundamental change to the project. The members of the community that we worked with were not as concerned about this. They preferred affordability to immediate equity and would gladly wait for 15 years in order to make the project work and have a chance at staying in their community. With or without tax credits, the cooperative is deeply subsidized. Those who value economic diversity in our communities have to accept that market forces won't respect these values and that subsidies must be brought in to guarantee affordability for the low- and moderate-income working families that the Erie Cooperative serves. Finally, the tax credit mechanism was not in place until two months after the referendum.

Portraying the evolution of the co-op plan as a "bait and switch" situation has been the Eckart Park Community Council's strategy for discrediting the sincere efforts of the residents who have served on the Co-op Steering Committee for two and a half years. Using that phrase as a headline for this article contradicts Joravsky's own conclusion that such assertions amount to a "fatuous accusation" not deserving headline treatment.

Erik Nordgren

Erie Neighborhood House

Ben Joravsky replies:

My article didn't suggest Erie House "intentionally deceived" the community; I did, however, quote several residents who felt deceived by the changes Erie House made in its housing program. The city was offering more money through tax credits. Of course, deferment represents a "fundamental change" in the program. Nordgren acknowledges as much when he writes that Erie House originally opposed it. Erie House did know about the changes before the referendum, whether or not they were "in place." Finally, let me say this, as the great Miguel de Cervantes wrote many, many years ago: "Honesty's the best policy." (George Washington said it in his farewell address, but Cervantes said it first.)

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