by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Several hundred people protested Feb. 9 outside Branch Community Church, 6215 W. Foster Ave., after they were denied entry to a community meeting on a proposal for a seven-story housing project at Northwest Highway and Milwaukee Avenue.
The meeting, which was held by Alderman John Arena (45th), was scheduled for 7 p.m., but by 6:30 p.m. the meeting room had reached its capacity of 300 people and no more residents were allowed inside.
The meeting was restricted to 45th Ward residents and identification was checked at the door. The project proposed by Full Circle Communities would feature 60 affordable housing units, and veterans would be given preference over other applicants.
Tenants of 20 to 28 units would be referred from Chicago Housing Authority-subsidized programs. The tenants would be taken from a CHA waiting list for low-income families, and they would be subject to a screening process which the company conducts on all prospective tenants.
Since the plan was announced in January, opposition to the plan has grown on social media Web sites and from some community groups.
Several hundred people, some who support the proposal and the majority who do not, began picketing in front of the church and chanting, "Arena must go." and "No section 8." Picket signs said "Zoning is not for sale" and "Norwood Park and Jefferson Park says no to Section 8."
"It’s not because of a race issue or anything," a resident said. "My kids go to a public school right now, and there’s not enough room."
A couple who have lived in the 45th Ward for more than 30 years said that they were disappointed that they were not able to attend the meeting.
"We think it’s pretty bad that not everybody got to get in," the woman said. "It was supposed to open at 7 and we were here a little after 6, and he (Arena) should have had a bigger place but he doesn’t want to hear about it."
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st), who was outside the church, said that his office received a large number of phone calls from residents who said that they are concerned about the project. He said that some residents are concerned about the effect of low-income housing on the Northwest Side and about the density of the project, including its effect on crowded schools.
"I’m here because a lot of my community is here and they have been reaching out to our office since the day that this broke and they are saying well, what’s our say as a community, and I don’t believe it has anything to do with the racial tone that is being painted," Napolitano said. "It has to do with the density issue.
"Our schools are bursting at the seams. (Alderman Nicholas) Sposato is fighting to get room for Taft and I’m fighting for two schools that are busting at the seams. It’s a density issue."
"I want my community to know that I will come out and support what they want," Napolitano said. "I’m not here to get involved in Arena’s ward’s issues, but I want to take a side of how it affects my community.
"People have invested in these neighborhoods a lot of money. They love where we live. They want to be a part of anything that’s brought here. They don’t want someone to say to them, ‘I know what’s best for the ward.’"
Napolitano and several residents said that they heard that a bus delivered people to the meeting. A black bus was parked at Balmoral and Mobile avenues.