Activists fearing ripple effect of Obama Presidential Center call for affordable housing protections in South Shore

On the same day the Obama Presidential Center broke ground Tuesday, a group of activists gathered nearby to call for affordable housing protections for the South Shore neighborhood to keep rising prices associated with the development from driving residents out of the community.

“This particular development will have a ripple effect in Black communities,” said Shannon Bennett, a leader in the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition.

A plan to protect owners and renters in South Shore is nearly complete and cementing a time to meet with Mayor Lori Lightfoot to discuss details is in the works, Bennett said.

“This is the community that sent [former President Barack Obama] to Springfield. This is the community that sent him to the Senate. This is the community that sent him to the White House, and we should be the community that gets to stay and benefit from the presidential center,” said South Shore resident Dixon Romeo.

About 30 supporters of the coalition gathered at 60th Street and Stony Island Avenue to hold a news conference Tuesday at noon.

An ordinance needs to be passed for South Shore that’s similar, but more expansive, than one that passed City Council last September cementing housing protections for the Woodlawn neighborhood, activists said.

The Woodlawn Housing Preservation ordinance sets aside $4.5 million for an array of affordable housing programs in the neighborhood surrounding the Obama Presidential Center and establishes affordability requirements for 30% of new housing units built on 52 vacant Woodlawn lots owned by the city.

Shannon Bennett, executive director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization
Mark Capapas/Sun-Times

Members of the coalition believe the presidential center will bring with it investment and higher home prices and rents that longtime residents will not be able to afford.

Bennett pointed to the gentrification of the Lincoln Park neighborhood, which is now one of the city’s wealthiest and whitest enclaves.

“We’re not going to let that happen in our communities,” he said, noting that the group is leaning on Lightfoot, not Obama, for help on the issues.

“Can our former president influence it, of course he could. Are we in rooms that he is in? I don’t think anyone here is. Our mayor should be accessible,” Bennett said.

A spokesman for Lightfoot didn’t immediately return a request for comment.