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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.

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Zach Abel / February 10, 2011 3:59 PM

ANT is has challenged Bickerdike and LSNA by filing a lawsuit, stating the zoning for the project is illegal.
You are missing the facts about the cost to the tax payers about the Bickerdike project; each apartment unit will cost over $390,000.00 each to build which is hardly affordable.
Zapata is simply too big, too dense and too expensive at a cost of $29,000,000.00
We need parks in our neighborhood; use our tax dollars to buy the vacant homes in the area and put more than 61 families in truly affordable housing.

dangermaus / February 10, 2011 4:10 PM

JM in your attempt to make your mis-named "affordable housing" movement look good, you neglected some important points.
1. You want to spend $400,000 PER UNIT on Zapata. For about half that amount, you could GIVE AWAY ENTIRE REFURBISHED HOUSES AND CONDOS in the LS neighborhood away to low-income families. But no, you want your buddies at Bickerdike to get the $26M. Why is that? Maybe you don't think that Latinos are smart enough to own property?
2. The only reason there were 100 supporters at that meeting was because you (or someone) bought them t-shirts and bussed them over there. Those of us that opposed it made it there on our own.
3. You didn't mention how the bullying and name-calling your group engaged in at the public forum to discuss Zapata about a year ago set up the adversarial situation we find ourselves in today.
I've emailed LSNA and Bickerdike about this, asking for ANY explanation of how you can justify spending that much on rebuilding (a smaller version of) Cabrini Green when you could be helping a larger number of people to actually own homes, but I've gotten no response. The simplest explanation is that you're disingenuous about your motivations and you're just another cog in the grand criminal enterprise known as the Chicago political "machine".

Pathetic / February 10, 2011 7:59 PM

I'm disugusted by the racist and class-based overtones presented in this article. Apparently for a diverse neighborhood, you need to fill racial quotas that are prescribed by McDermott & Co. People moving into the neighborhood from unwanted Lincoln Park or Lakeview are considered "threats"?!?

Pathetic / February 10, 2011 8:00 PM

I'm disugusted by the racist and class-based overtones presented in this article. Apparently for a diverse neighborhood, you need to fill racial quotas that are prescribed by McDermott & Co. People moving into the neighborhood from unwanted Lincoln Park or Lakeview are considered "threats"?!?

Eric / February 11, 2011 12:58 PM

Maus: To call those two organizations part of the Chicago machine is a laughable, simplistic epithet. City government has historically been far from amenable to preserving mixed-income neighborhoods.

The commenters seem to miss the point of the article - which isn't that the neighborhood needs to fill racial quotas, but rather that a neighborhood must be a place where families can live and go to school for generations. Sometimes this requires proactive investment and foresight in ensuring affordable housing exists.

Perhaps you'll also note that the "threat" in the article isn't folks from Lincoln Park/Wicker Park, but rather the "pattern of displacement." That's the key point. Any neighborhood will have newcomers. People move. Neighborhoods change. But the issue of justice comes to mind when displacement occurs on such a stark level as it has in Logan Square (and in other neighborhoods before it).

The point isn't to blame people - rather to raise consciousness about the impact of changing economics, the media image of "frontier" Logan Square, and the neighborhood's history. I'm confident we can all have that conversation.

jasdye / February 11, 2011 1:26 PM

I, for one, am disgusted by the racist and class-based overtones of "Pathetic" and the ANT crowd.

Please learn what these words mean before you use them.

Furthermore, Dangermaus, nobody bussed us to these meetings. I took public transportation. Everybody who was there to support the affordable housing was there EXPLICITLY to support the affordable housing of Zapata within our community.

Pathetic / February 12, 2011 9:20 AM


Perhaps you are the one who should understand the meaning of the word before confirming your ignorance. If you read the passage, the author states affirmatively that Logan Square is long known as a "diverse" neighborhood. However, the term "diverse, is this passage does not refer to true diversity, because the census figures shows that the neighborhood has gotten more diverse over the last ten years.

When the hispanic population outnumbered all other ethnic populations by larger margins that it does now, the author and activst label Logan Square as a "diverse" neighborhood. Now that whites and blacks have become a larger part of the total population, but are still outnumbered by the larger hispanic population, they consider it less diverse. So it is established that both the author and Jim McDermott believe that, in this case, that diversity means a hispanic-dominated neighborhood, which is in itself racist.

McDermott states "It's been very difficult to get the city to take leadership and change policy to help Logan Square preserve its diversity". Based on the census figures, he clearly advocates for discriminatory policy.

McDermott views the influx of residents from Lincoln Park and Lakeview, which are primarily white-dominated neighborhoods as "threats" to be dealt with. Its odd that he views people who are moving from less diverse neighborhoods to a more diverse neighborhood as threats? It is the complete opposite position of what he purports to be good policy for Logan Square.

Racism comes in all forms, and this is a fine example.

Anders nirremo / February 12, 2011 11:10 AM

Socialism at it's finest and at ANY cost. Ever stopped to wonder why Chicago is broke?

humboldtwriter / February 13, 2011 7:24 PM

Holistic. What is in a word? When talking about a neighborhood or community, I sum it up as such: We are all in this together.
The authors/editors of this article/interview allowing the phrase “white [people are] part of the problem” to be published are not participating in a holistic dialogue. It can only be considered a racist diatribe. You are isolating yourselves and have destroyed your credibility with this reader.
I won’t tell you what my ethnic heritage or background is, or how many languages I speak, but I will tell you that I am a long-time business owner currently operating in the vicinity of the Zapata project, and the article caught my attention because of this. All of my employees are Hispanic, as is my life partner.
If your goal is to be holistic, in addition to considering your own interests and goals, you must consider mine, as well as those of the opponents of the Zapata project.
After reading your article and getting an idea of your perspective, I read about ANT and their goals and reasoning, and as a homeowner in the immediate vicinity, I have been following the housing market in our area closely for the past five or six years.
A lot of us homeowners are hanging onto our homes by a thread. Our market-rate purchases of $200,000 that we had assumed were stable assets have been diminished by large numbers of foreclosures and short sales among other factors. If I wanted to sell my well-maintained and much-improved house during the coming months, I could not expect it to fetch $140,000, which is less than what I owe. Property taxes have risen, the price of everything we consume has risen, and my already modest income has fallen.
In the current economic situation, anyone and everyone’s job, career, business and/or industry is at risk. All sorts of people have left the neighborhood because of job losses, which in many cases has resulted in the loss/sale/transfer of their property ownership. The stability of the neighborhood would be best impacted by entrepreneurs opening businesses and bringing much needed employment opportunities. We need jobs in this community, which can bring purchasing power to the residents.
It seems irresponsible that my hard-paid tax dollars are slated to be spent on new construction, at a cost of almost $400,000 per unit, on a structure that is completely out of character for the neighborhood. Why not build more two and three flats and call it a day? There would be no valid complaints from neighbors if you followed zoning laws and protocol, and were trying to fit in the neighborhood instead of dominating it.
Or, better yet, why doesn’t LSNA, Bickerdike, etc. pick up some of these foreclosure/short-sale bargains, place needy families in them much quicker than they could build new construction, and cut costs tremendously while simultaneously serving the community by removing such properties from the saturated marketplace? Why the Cabrini-style fortress structure, and why build more commercial spaces that may sit vacant for years?
After reading from Bickerdike’s website, I am under the impression that this whole thing stinks. I would like to believe that it doesn’t, that everyone will be conscientious, honest, and nice to each other, but the comments made in the article erased these naïve ideas from my mind. Hiding behind the needy underclass, who need to remain a genuine concern, and bolstered by xenophobic comments I think I see something under a thin veneer of Socialism. Unadulterated Capitalism.
When you see that it is only tax dollars funding this project, that the for-profit construction company is owned by a non-profit development corporation , and that the construction deal is a no-bid contract, it starts to read like a bad novel. The short-term construction jobs, do they really help the community? Add to it more of our tax dollars paying to subsidize the rents in the commercial spaces in Zapata leased to social service agencies that serve the building occupants needs? Wow. Then, one can read on to see that Bickerdike ALSO selects the tenants AND manages the property. So, a non-profit? Who pays all these salaries for all of the employees? Looks like Bickerdike should start calling me boss. I have a feeling that I have only seen the tip of the iceberg here.
The best thing about your article is that it really opened my eyes to something happening right under my nose in my own business neighborhood.

jerry / September 1, 2011 7:30 AM

I bought in LS in 2002. The neighborhood was well on its way to gentrifying then. What's the all the complaining about? Many long time residents cashed in big-time when yuppies came along to buy their property. There's plenty of affordable housing in the city, just not in neighborhoods where everyone wants to live. LS is now a nice neighborhood where my daughter can play without having to worry about drug-dealers in the alley. All those drug dealer's mothers sold their house and moved away, and the dealers moved away with them.

Kate / December 20, 2011 2:57 PM

If Bickerdike is so altruistic, why don't they just buy condos and houses for poor families? It seems like they just want a new business to make them money as landlords.

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