Drama over Obama presidential center in Chicago as protesters call for more affordable housing

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Chicago protesters warned Mayor Lori Lightfoot this week that residents could be displaced should the city allow the Obama Presidential Center to arrive without implementing stronger affordable housing measures.

The Chicago Tribune reported that more than 50 members of the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition and ally groups took over a vacant lot in Woodlawn, in the south side of the city, and pitched gray tents, in a message to the mayor about their concerns that homelessness in Chicago could worsen without a community benefits agreement.

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“When we talk about violence against black people—and I’m a black person—it’s not just police violence,” Obama CBA Coalition organizer Ebonee Green told the Tribune. “It’s the violence of displacement. It’s the violence of moving people wholesale and acting as if we do not matter when things come into the community, where we do not have voice, and that we are just replaceable.”

But a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Housing told the Tribune that the Lightfoot administration “has worked to include the diverse perspectives found throughout Woodlawn through an in-depth and expansive community engagement process spanning more than 30 community meetings that brought hundreds of renters, homeowners, and other stakeholders together.”

The spokesman also told the Tribune that Lightfoot has a plan “that prioritizes an unprecedented level of investment in Woodlawn through the creation of an innovative housing policy that protects residents against displacements along with mechanisms to encourage the development of new housing stock for both renters and buyers.”

Supporters of the Obama Foundation’s presidential center, which is expected to house a museum commemorating the Obama presidency, have reportedly said that the center would revitalize the south side of Chicago.

But community groups are concerned that the center would gentrify the neighborhood.

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According to the Tribune, the members of the Obama CBA Coalition, in light of the “defund the police” movement, have urged some of the Chicago Police Department’s budget to be directed to residents in the South Side.

“I’m having a really hard time understanding why there are political officials with their heels so dug in the ground about creating affordable housing,” Green told the Tribune. “Because what I will tell you is that we know that gentrification is coming.”

The Obama CBA Coalition has reportedly proposed an ordinance that would mandate 40 percent of new housing developments in the area be affordable.