History of segregation, need for more low-income housing on NW Side discussed


Alderman John Arena’s pledge to help end segregation in the 45th Ward by bringing more Chicago Housing Authority-sponsored apartments to the area was warmly received at an Aug. 10 panel discussion on segregation in Chicago.

Arena told the audience of about 100 people that some opponents to low-income or affordable housing qualify for these programs but are reluctant to acknowledge that they could benefit from these housing options. “We will vote against our own self-interests because we don’t want to identify with (that classification),” he said.

Arena was one of seven North and Northwest Side aldermen to sign a pledge to bring at least 50 CHA units to their wards, and some audience members called for pressure to be placed on Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) and other aldermen to sign the pledge. Napolitano was the only alderman to vote against a proposed 100-unit apartment building that would include 30 CHA and 50 affordable units at 5150 N. Northwest Highway.

Plans had called for only a storage warehouse on the Northwest Highway site, but Arena had the property downzoned to stop the project.

The property owner later sued the city, and Arena signed a settlement agreement that led to the current plan of a warehouse and mixed-income housing development. The new plan prompted a lawsuit from residents who oppose the project because they said it would be too dense and would worsen overcrowding at Beaubien School and Taft High School.

Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park hosted the 90-minute discussion, which was titled “Affordability and Segregation in Chicago: Past, Present and Future.” The panelists were University of Chicago history researcher and PhD candidate Nick Kryczka, Metropolitan Planning Council director of research Alden Loury and Center for Tax and Budget Accountability senior policy analyst Daniel Kay Hertz.

There are about 11,450 low-income families living in Portage Park and Jefferson Park, but not all of them have access to low-income housing, Hertz said. “For the people who live here, there already is a good 3,500 low-income housing (shortage),” he said

Ideally families should spend no more than 30 percent of their household income on housing, Hertz said. A factor driving housing costs up in some city neighborhoods since 2007 is an influx of 36,000 high-income renters who earn at least $125,000 a year and pay $3,000 or more a month in rent, he said.

One of the reasons that low-income housing is targeted for areas near transit centers is that it leads to lower transportation costs, Hertz said. A typical family living near the CTA Blue Line spends $8,700 a year in transportation expenses compared to $11,000 for those who do not have convenient access to the Blue Line, he said.

It also was reported that the seven-county Chicago region is considered the fifth most segregated out of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas in terms of race and income. Loury said that there is a cost to segregation in terms of education and other factors, hurting the city’s economic growth and leading to more homicides.

Loury said after the meeting that he was unaware of a segregation index which ranks Jefferson Park compared to other communities in the city, as Jefferson Park represents a relatively small sampling size.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning reports that about 17,700 of the 27,200 residents in Jefferson Park are white, but while racial breakdowns may show the overall diversity of a community, they are not necessarily an indicator of segregation, Loury said.

An examination of census tracks and other data would need to be explored for different sections or blocks in order to make a proper determination, Loury said. A community could be evenly split among racial lines, but it would still be considered segregated if each of those groups were to live predominantly in a different part of town, he said.

Neighbors for Affordable Housing has contended that racism fueled some of the opposition to the Northwest Highway development.

Kryzcka said that Jefferson Park has a history of opposition to low-income housing. In 1971, then-alderman Ed Fifielski supported protestors who were in front of his 45th Ward office in opposition to the city’s plans for scattered-site, low-income housing and that 46 years later a similar protest occurred in front of Arena’s office, he said.

As mayor, Richard J. Daley played a key role in fighting the development of low-income housing in Chicago in the early 1970s, Kryzcka said. As his support was eroding among black voters, the mayor focused on his base of white, ethnic voters, he said.

The meeting concluded with members of Neighbors for Affordable Housing asking for residents to support the second phase of zoning for the Northwest Highway project. Arena said that the rezoning would occur this fall if the developer, Full Circle Communities, is successful in obtaining its low-income housing tax credits from the state.

The first phase of the zoning allows for the warehouse and created an underlying zoning for the entire site that allows for an unspecified, multi-family development on the other half of the property.

Despite one member of the City Council’s Zoning Committee getting the vote delayed last spring, approval was never in doubt, and it was later approved unanimously, Arena said. “I had the votes on the zoning board from day one,” he said.