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Neighborhoods Thu Feb 10 2011
What Do New Census Figures Mean for Logan Square? An Interview with Neighborhood Activist John McDermott
Photo by Pictofile.
The recently released census data on the changing demographics in Chicago showed dramatic shifts in a number of neighborhoods. The Chicago News Cooperative story last month on the changes focused on a number of striking elements, including an 11 percent loss in the city's African American population on the South and West Sides and the replacement of white ethnics by Latino immigrants in the bungalow belt.
Some of the most dramatic changes in the city, however, were seen in Logan Square on the Northwest Side. The neighborhood, long known as affordable and diverse, has become the "it" 'hood over the last few years, with swanky restaurants, chill coffee shops, and hip bars throwing open their doors faster than you can say "mustachioed fixed gear cyclist."
As the predominantly young, white hipster crowd has grown in the neighborhood, the Latino population has fallen from by 10,438 in nine years, from 53,833 in 2000 to 43,395 in 2009. Latinos still outweigh whites and blacks by far, but their numbers have declined dramatically.
To discuss what the census numbers mean for the neighborhood's future, GB recently sat down with John McDermott, Housing and Land Use Director of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, at the organization's home on Milwaukee just northwest of Kimball and Diversey. He expressed concern for present and future displacement of long-time residents in the neighborhood, but emphasized his hope for the future stability and diversity of Logan Square.
LSNA members in front of the organization's headquarters after an anti-budget cuts protest in 2010. From the group's Facebook page.
Gapers Block: Did you expect to see such a massive loss of Latinos in Logan Square?
John McDermott: It's certainly not shocking. We've been trying to sound the alarm over the last decade that this is happening. As I looked at the numbers, I thought of so many stories of families we know who have been displaced by condo conversions or high rents or, more recently, foreclosures. It's useful to have the hard numbers, but in a sense, this is what we've been organizing around, to get the key leaders of the city to pay attention to over the last ten years. Mayor Daley talks a great deal about aspiring to have mixed-income communities in the context of public housing transformation, but here in Logan Square, we've had a mixed-income, multi-ethnic community for quite some time. It's been very difficult to get the city to take leadership and change policy to help Logan Square preserve its diversity.
We fought for seven years to get Mayor Daley to enact a Balanced Development Ordinance, or a set-aside ordinance, which requires that large new housing developments include units that are moderately-priced for home buyers or rentals for lower income families. We only were able to succeed in getting a 10 percent set-aside, in 2007, with the Affordable Requirements Ordinance. It was a heartbreaking experience for a lot of the community leaders, because by the time it was passed, the boom years of condo conversion and new construction were coming to an end. So we got the requirement passed, then the market cooled.
As we were getting close to a victory on that issue, one of our leaders--our president at the time, Delia Ramirez--became a leader on condo conversions, and the city appointed her to a condo conversion task force that met in 2007 and 2008. They came up with some ideas, wrote a report, but their work was put into the deep freeze until it was brought back in August or September 2010. It went back and forth in city council for a while before the proposed ordinance was pulled back on the floor of the council.
What was proposed in 2010 was a very watered-down version of what many of the task force members had hoped to see. They wanted actual ways that the city could limit the number of condo conversions in a given year, especially in over-saturated neighborhoods. The ordinance wouldn't do that, but it would require additional notice to tenants and a tracking system to neighborhood leaders so they could find out there was a conversion proposed. Right now, the city isn't even keeping track of the number of condo conversions in neighborhoods, even though these conversions have a huge impact demographically on things like schools.
In Logan Square, we had many condo conversions in the boom years, especially from 2003-2007, as well as new constructions of condos and steep rent increases. Identifying cause and effect is tricky here, but at some of our local elementary schools in the eastern and central parts of the neighborhoods, they were losing over 100 kids in one year. The local public elementary schools are predominantly poor and working-class Latino families, and based on our relationships with teachers, we know that this was not a case of the kids going to other schools in the neighborhoods or turning to private schools. The families were being displaced.
Sometimes the families would move nearby, to Avondale; other times, families moved to the Southwest Side. I've been working here for eight years, and it seems like hardly a month goes by where we hear about a family that is involved in our organization that has to move out of the neighborhood.
GB: Do you think about Wicker Park coming further northwest up Milwaukee?
JM: Geographically, Logan Square has to think about a pattern of displacement coming up from Wicker Park, but also coming west from Lincoln Park and Lakeview. I think the strategy that we employ to deal with those threats is to strengthen the community that's here, holistically. We fight to preserve and construct affordable housing, but we also help families in parent leadership and involvement in their schools; we're involved in development and land-use decisions; we've become involved in foreclosure prevention. So we do educate ourselves about the trends that are happening in Wicker Park and Lakeview and Lincoln Park, but more important than that is the holistic work that we do day-to-day to engage families and seniors and young people who are here in being vibrant, active leaders in the community.
Over the last three or four years, we've seen many young people--primarily white, who, upon first glance, would be pegged as a newcomer or as part of the problem--who are coming to us to get involved and strategize on how they can be part of the fight for affordable housing and balanced development. So in the influx in new population, we are finding people who can also be part of the solution.
GB: Have those newcomers had an impact?
JM: We have a housing and land-use committee that played a huge role over the past year in overcoming opposition to the proposal for the Zapata apartments. About five years ago, we realized there is a need for affordable housing for families near schools and a need to stabilize the population in those schools. Close to a cluster of schools near the southern edge of Logan Square were a number of large vacant lots along Armitage that had been vacant for decades. We approached the Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation about creating an affordable apartment complex and they agreed to create a development. We decided on the name "Zapata apartments" because one of the Bickerdike staff was thinking about Emiliano Zapata's fight for land reform as part of the Mexican Revolution when he walked by the lot at St. Louis and Armitage and saw a gentleman with a t-shirt of Emiliano Zapata. So that sealed it: this was the right idea.
These were privately-owned lots, mostly owned by real estate speculators waiting out the market. Bickerdike paid market-rate for them and were all ready to go when the recession hit. Unfortunately, the major federal funding source for low-income housing is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), a product of the Reagan/Bush years that got the private sector involved in affordable housing. So when the recession hit, the market value of the tax credits plummeted rapidly.
Then, a very small but vocal opponents' group formed, contending that the Zapata Apartments would harm the neighborhood, that the buildings were too dense, that they were for affordable housing but not at those locations. They called themselves ANT--Armitage Neighbors Together. As far as we can tell, they formed simply to oppose the project.
Over the past year, a wide range of Logan Square residents came together and organized. Thirty-two hundred people signed signatures of support. The zoning for the project had to be redone--ANT had targeted zoning and filed a lawsuit against the city. The zoning hearing happened in August, and there were on a weekday, well over 100 supporters from all walks of life, and maybe 10-12 opponents. The zoning was passed, and shortly after we learned that the state of Illinois approved the allocation of LIHTC. So through volunteers staying with the issue and overcoming not-in-my-backyard opposition, we are much closer to seeing 61 units of affordable housing built on Armitage. It's really a double victory, because that housing will be affordable for decades, and if those lots didn't go to affordable housing, they'd probably go towards new condos.
GB: After sitting there for another decade, maybe.
JM: Exactly. Had we not done this, those lots would stay vacant for much longer. So by getting involved, people's lives in the neighborhood are transformed. You go from just being a neighbor who votes or occasionally does a good deed to being able to walk down your block and passing by a church led by a pastor you've met through a committee you belong to, and then another block later you pass by a school where you know some of the parents. Becoming part of LSNA gives you a chance to become a fully engaged member of your community. And that itself becomes transformational. Once that happens, you have a set of relationships that actually give you access to people to make change.