We Are Not Broke But We Are Dying

Note: Cross-posted from our other blog, Occupy the Democrats for People Power. Check it out.

Chicago just faced its deadliest month in twenty years with at least 84 murders in the month of August alone. Unlike the gang wars of the mid-90s, most of these shootings and murders were retaliatory in nature and thus even easier to prevent via proactive actions of the city and state. We could easily and adequately fund violence prevention programs like CeaseFire, had summer activities for the youth at the local schools, reopened community mental wellness centers, hired and trained therapists to do wellness visits for youth and children dealing with trauma.

Again and again we are told we don’t have the money for that. We have the money. Don’t let Bruce Rauner and Rahm Emanuel lie to you. We have the money and we sure as hell aren’t broke. Go downtown. We have the damned money.

According to Tom Tresser and a host of other civic watchdogs in the new Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve, Chicago has hosts of untapped money, potentially up to 5 1/2 billion dollars that could be released annually. That money could be saved or found through addressing city-wide corruption (including in alderman’s offices, City Hall, and among the police and its accessories) [rough estimation at half a billion dollars a year]; ending police abuse [50 million a year]; slashing TIF slush funds [421.5 million per year]; ending and being reimbursed for toxic bank deals [one billion dollars saved from exiting the deals]; a state-wide progressive income tax (Illinois has one of the most regressive taxes in the union) [85 million per year would go to Chicago]; instituting a city-wide financial transaction tax [2.6 billion annually]; and establishing a public bank for Chicago [1.36 billion a year].We’re talking regular influxes of billions of dollars in Chicago alone that can go to public education, housing, libraries, parks, road maintenance, mental health service, jobs. And much, much more.

If you live in Chicago, this book is required reading. If you have friends or family in Chicago, buy this for them. At twelve dollars, we’re talking stocking stuffer.

Our tax dollars need to work for us.

Further, if we significantly reduce the jails, policing, and prison system in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois, we could save billions more.

Where could that money be wisely spent, in a way that will benefit not merely the top 2% (as TIF projects tend to do) but particularly the neglected and high-crime areas? The two-party system has previously only proposed incarceration as a direct solution to the crimes with deeper rooted problems. I propose the ideas highlighted at the beginning of this post, but want to significantly draw out wrap-around community schools.

I first heard of this notion through the work of the #FightForDyett campaign, where roughly a dozen parents and community members of the Bronzeville neighborhood dedicated themselves and went on a hunger strike to reopen a closed open-enrollment neighborhood high school, Dyett High School. They wanted Dyett to serve the needs of the community. While Dyett is reopening as an art school, they have provided fuel for further struggles.

A wrap-around community school would use the facilities and the campus year-round and day-around for the needs of the community: offering affordable/free child-care and preschool; youth-centered programs with sports, media, arts; night classes in GED, ESL, and other curriculum for adults, for example.

These schools can provide a safe-haven for kids, can equip residents by training them in violence-reduction efforts, can practice restorative justice and de-escalation during and after school hours.

They can be centers where the community participants are trained and paid to serve the needs of the community, long neglected in this apartheid state by the titans of industry and the civic leaders removed by segregation. They can be sources of middle-income wages, which also go back to local businesses and help to kick in to economic refurbishing of disinvested communities- without gentrification that merely displaces the impoverished without disturbing the poverty.

Properly and imaginatively funneling otherwise wasted, hidden, and untapped monies into our communities would literally save hundreds of lives a year. And aid in the flourishing of potentially millions more. What is there to lose but fear and violence?

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Land, Dispersal, and Culture without People

Gentrification is a social force with its own reasons, justifications, and rules. It is one of the last remaining engines of blatant racism left to prosper openly in Northern and liberal urban areas like Chicago, New York, LA, and Portland. A primary reason for its thriving despite the harm it causes Black and Brown people is that gentrification is an economic powerhouse. But another driving reason is the very fact it harms Black and Brown communities.

That is to say, especially since the 1960’s, we’ve not liked organized poor people. And the one resource that poor people have when the capitalists have stolen our labor power and landlords, taxes, service companies, and mercs have taken what’s left, is organized power. The management political class in our communities do not represent us – they serve other powers, higher powers: namely, organized money. So the greatest wheel-house we have left for political power is the ability to be and the manifestation of being organized. That is how we survive. When people have little else, we depend on each other. Institutions serve their own self-survival needs, so while the poor often have access to institutions, the institutions are not at their beck-and-call; they tend to follow and obey the money. Often, our connection with economic and social institutions is of exploitation. Being very poor is to be marginalized from and within economic and social institutions even when they are ostensibly for our service.

However, if we only asked the city to merely deliver meager social services and fix potholes, the engines and friends at city hall would not mind so much. But when we demand that things be taken care of, that the wheels of justice be churned in our direction, that we receive jobs and programs, that the cops stop harassing and killing our young ones, that our parks are maintained, that our schools are furnished, lit, full of trained, positive teachers, books, and toilet paper, then the city, being first and foremost an extension of the bourgeoisie, aim to destroy our mechanisms of power and protest. That is to say, our communities.

We can of course afford to resource the communities after People of Color leave it*, but to do so while they reside here is to use government coffers.That, to neoliberals, would be too much welfare. Apparently, investing in communities is only ok if done with private money backed by public funds when there is private money to be made. That way, money stays fluid and can be detached from communities. As liberal economist Paul Krugman put it while talking about Puerto Rico recently (emphasis mine):

The safety net is there to protect people, not places. If a regional economy is left stranded by the shifting tides of globalization, well, that’s going to happen now and then. What’s important is that workers be able to find opportunities somewhere, and that those unable for whatever reason to take advantage of these opportunities be protected from extreme hardship.

[h/t to Rod Thomas for the find]

Of course this understanding erases place and the reality of a people connected to that place. It removes land from community and community from land.

For Puerto Rico, this is troubling for many reasons. While Puerto Ricans from the mid-20th century until currently have tended to migrate continuously between the island (colony) and the mainland (colonizer) – with my neighborhood Humboldt Park being a mainstay in the ever-transition – Puerto Rico is rightly considered home to most BorinquenXs. Their current debt crisis is a divestment leading to an undoing of the collective, spiritual home while gentrification was a divestment that lead to an undoing of the communitative, material home.

So, land of poor communities can not be protected, thus poor communities cannot be either. Somehow we can protect the people without protecting their communities. This is White Neoliberal Thought in action.

But not only that, we’ve learned we can also keep the legacy of the cultures of people of color alive, while at the same time killing off the communities of people of color. We can in effect maintain Latin-American drinks at prices most LatinXs cannot afford in an area currently swiping itself clean of LatinXs.

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MUCH LATIN! via Chicago Eatery

According to hyper local site DNAinfo/Chicago, “Estereo Bringing Latin-American Drinks, Vibe To Logan Square.” This is a very nice gesture from the same restaurant group that brought us such authentically LatinX restaurants as “Sportsman’s Club, Lone Wolf, Bar DeVille and Pub Royale among others” as Logan Square (adjacent to Humboldt Park) is running out of Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and various other LatinXs/Latin-Americans. I mean, what kind of vibe do LatinXs produce in their own space anyway, rite?

What this story and location eventually reminded me of was the habit of Indian mascotry, where American sports corporations, capitalists and fans claim to “honor the legacy” of Native Americans while parading around as cartoon versions of Natives. Meanwhile, actual, human Natives live in abject poverty on ‘trust’ lands overseen by the US government. These topics are not in the least unrelated.

The Homestead Act gave collective Indian land to private, White citizens of the United States. The way they were able to maintain this control and keep this control for White Supremacist Capitalism is by erasing all other people from ownership of the land.

LatinXs and Black Americans have “culture” that White America can mine while stealing their work power, detaining them, and dispersing them like riot police. Effective redlining, mass incarceration, immigration raids and sending back refugee children to their imminent deaths are only a part of the tactic. What does it mean that Black and Brown Americans always have worked the land but rarely own the land? When they do own land, they are dispersed from it via gentrification.

American Empire continually steals Indian lands. Think of pipelines and water rights. Think of the lack of sovereignty of Indian spaces. Meanwhile its inhabitants and corporations steal Indian “culture” (How many folks say their great-grandmother is half-Cherokee and spout ridiculous “Indian” chants? The ‘sexy Indian’ costume) and turn a people into mythological cartoons and costumes.

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And it’s not just conservatives, sports fans, and Dan Snyder that do this racist mascotry.

Gentrification – retaining cultural elements while destroying or erasing the community that it is situated from – is consuming to destroy.  It is a win-win for racist capitalism: consuming of land and cultures of color and an assassination of communities of color.

Gentrification is cultural genocide.


  • A different argument should be made for white rural areas that were jutted after mining. It’s a different engine itself and looks and works differently, but some of the same factors are in play. In this case, public resources stripped for private profit and delivered to public consumption using wage slave labor. And, now what?

Uber & The 606: The Worth and Work of Women of Color in the Neoliberalism Era

While riding with my daughter the other morning, we traveled down the new above-ground park-slash-bike/jogging trail called conversely The Bloomingdale Trail and The 606. While grabbing some water on the way up the 606, I noticed the trail was extra busy, with many joggers and walkers as it was such a brilliant, nice day. Two joggers I noticed in particular were white women just coming out of an Uber driven by a black woman. The moment was too delicious for simple irony, yet too bitter to b satisfying.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the Bloomingdale Trail, a railroad line heavy with cargo used to pass through the Chicago neighborhoods of Bucktown, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park. While the lines it adjoins to the west are still in heavy use, over the last fifteen or so years, the nearly three mile stretch grew weeds and would occasionally host the straggling jogger.

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Bloomingdale Trail pre-park via Field Guide to Nature

About ten years ago, members of the Logan Square and Humboldt Park communities would meet to discuss plans for how to use the railway to benefit the neighborhoods. At this time, both neighborhoods were largely working class LatinX and – with the exception of the large and beautiful Humboldt Park and the boulevard system running through it – possessed very little green or public space. So they began a dream of turning the infrastructure of the railway into a pedestrian park.

This dream was fast-tracked some years later under Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he realized this park was a way to build up a tax revenue base. Which is to say it was a good way to build more outside interest in an area already facing massive gentrification. The months surrounding its opening saw people being priced out of their homes as nearby rents dramatically increased 40-100% and long-term homeowners were scared off by the prospect of substantially higher tax rates.

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Normally not as festive. Credit: Adam Alexander Photography via The Trust for Public Land

What is becoming common knowledge in gentrified Chicago is that our city uses good things to draw in wealthier and wealthier people – not just to build a tax base, but to drive the poor apart from their collective actions so there is little recourse left but to give up. It is systemic disengagement and disunion of Black and Brown communities. This is especially lethal as Black and Brown communities cannot rely on common or familial wealth, nor of basic services. Thus they must and do rely on support networks in their communities. 

So gentrification isn’t making the community better, it’s using long-delayed improvements of the community which were called by the community to displace and fracture that same living and fighting community and replace it with a permanently mobile economic force. One that either cannot or does not need to fight back.

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Logan Square Neighborhood Assn protest against gentrification. Photo by Tyler ReViere via Chicagoist

What gentrification does to black and brown communities, however, the Sharing Economy as highlighted by Uber does to worker communities.

The taxi business has largely been run by immigrants and, while far from perfect, has been a means for people of color to survive when few other options are available. Because of the intimacy of the ride, the dangers of the road, the semi-freelancing of the gig, the potential violence that drivers face, the taxi business relied on safeguards such as unionization, licensing, and medallion-winning to protect the consumer and the worker.

Most of these regulations have been sidestepped by the would-be taxis in the ride-sharing business. When Uber and Lyft, et al, came to Chicago, the neoliberal administration headed by Emanuel did away with most of those regulations. But they came with technology that made it easier and faster to hail a cab, as well as an economic structure that made too much sense on the face of it. In its introductory phase, the cost of a ride in an Uber was considerably cheaper than one in a taxicab. Outside of the share that is given to Uber for the technology and use, the rest is given to the driver-owner, who is not leasing a car but using their own. Of course, this model is only possible because the driver is not an employee (and thus the costs of living are transferred to someone else, such as other employers, the drivers, and the government) and thus Uber gets to have and eat its cake.

However, in a model learned from Wal-Mart, as this cheaper model of taxiing begins to saturate the market, it forces out the old cab drivers and their unions – the communities that they built up. As the competition is being gutted, Uber raises the fees for both the consumer and the contractor. This has already started happening at certain peak hours, where costs are exponentially higher.

So Uber will eventually out-Uber itself as a de-unionized, untrained, and even unvetted workforce rises to replace an older community of working class people of color, only to themselves be ushered out by more desperate people looking for even fewer scraps.

In short, more working class women of color will be driving more professional class white people to a park dreamt up by working class women of color but implemented by professional class white people in order to drive out the working class women of color – but for less and less payout.

The Age of Late Neoliberalism is especially adept at not just taking crises and turning them into opportunities for the Investor Class, but also at taking lovely things – often things we create – and turning those against us. See for instance how the city of Chicago turns neighborhood parks into music festivals (often featuring artists of color from working class roots) as an aid in gentrification and homeless erasure. Or how art, artists, and art fests have been used to displace Logan Square residents (while LatinX and Black art are still drastically underfunded starting at the school level). Notice how a Logan Square developer/evil landlord boasts about investing in neighborhood as a means to drastically raise rents.

Despite these tactics, enjoy the beautiful and the lovely. I travel the 606 with pride, as do many WCPOC. This is our neighborhood. We’ve lived here and suffered the worst through disinvestment and we should have good things available to us without guilt. Like your music and your coffee shops. But it is to say that the tools of the Neoliberal Age toward its anti-communal goals are tricky, and we must recognize them to navigate them and beat them to the punch.

Enjoy your day. Party. And fight.

Pre-Crime: Reduced Crime and Increased Criminals

Note: I woke up this morning and had some new thoughts. They’re not unique – in the sense that I’m sure any prison advocate (ie, Michelle Alexander or Prison Culture) has already outlined – and certainly informed and helped to inspire these ideas. As has living in Chicago and in some of the very landscapes I’m describing here. But they’re new to me and I wanted to share.

Since the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, the overall crime rate has been reduced tremendously. As have the murder rates in large cities, to such an effect that the 500+ people killed in Chicago was such a shock. Those numbers would have been low in the early 1990’s, though, even in the early 2000’s since the numbers were decreasing from an all-high of 943 in ’92 (source).

Why have these numbers been decreasing overall? It’s not as if the economy has improved for the working class (who are most often blamed for violent crimes. After all, white collar economic violence is neither recognized as violence nor as a crime in most cases) or the middle class overall. Nor is it that people are better off or just in any ways better than they were 30 years ago (nor, for that matter, are we getting worse as a people). And though there are always various factors that contribute to this decline, the most glaring one is the increased prison population.

And this may or may not be the case. But let’s treat it like it is. Let’s treat it as if there are less crimes because we have fewer “criminals” in the public. There are less “bad people” doing “bad things” (again, notice white collar crime is completely given a free pass here). I mean, it jibes so much with conservative law & order politics – which is a big, fat problem.

Pre-Crime.

Let’s call this a preemptive strike against criminals. Or we can recall the Spielberg 9/11 tech-thriller Minority Report and refer to it as pre-crime (who are the precogs? ALEC seems to be one). It’s also known as the Broken Windows treatment, where the smallest infractions are treated as big crimes in order to clear the streets of the “criminal element.” If you make sure there are no broken windows, the logic goes, the neighborhood pride goes up and it takes better care of itself (except it can’t when its population is restricted and denied access).

Yet this pre-crime approach is not guilty-until-proven innocent. It’s presumption-of-guilt-before-act-of-guilt. And often the most damning fact that proves future guilt is class and color, especially color. Racism is the precogs.

The numbers.

0.7% of the US population is in prison. That may not seem too much, but consider that is 2,266,832 people – roughly the size of Chicago. And these are prisoners – not people being held in a jail. And consider that when we talk of the WHOLE population, we are including seniors and children. Take away those numbers, and the percentage point goes much higher. Nevertheless, it is the highest incarceration rate in the world, with other rich countries coming in at 1/7 – 1/10th the incarceration rate, and even poor, zero-tolerance states like Russia coming in well under the US (source).

Yet, 4.3% of the black male US population is currently in jail or prison (source). Of the nearly 2.1 million males in prison, non-Latino black males make up 841,000 of them (about 2/5 of the prison population). Non-Latino white males make up a significantly smaller 693,800 (about 1/3), although white non-hispanics make up 66% of the entire population (2/3) and black people (including Black Latinos) make up around 13% of the entire US population (1/8th). Latino numbers are also skewed in a fashion somewhat between White and Black numbers with Latinos making up 16% of the population and about 25% of the population. So the numbers are a bit off, and racially suspicious.

War

So this War on Crime is yet another front on the War on People Of Color. Our precogs first-strikes are built on assumptions. And while we aren’t normally honest about what those assumptions are, occasionally the truth strikes out. Occasionally, we have a George Zimmerman. Occasionally, we have a Great Northern City defend accosting young black males while turning up nothing. Occasionally, White supremacy rears its ugly head. Occasionally, we can see it for what it is clearly, out in the open.

This while upper income kids get off scot-free due to access to lawyers, “clean image,” and having the law on their side. The cogs don’t recognize upper-class white people. Meanwhile, the incarcerated (mostly people of color) are exploited for their labor, lose voting rights, and become virtually unemployable.

And while the numbers of reported crimes have diminished, is it worth it?

For all the money and effort spent locking away young men and women of color, is this a wise investment?

What will be the return-on-investment?

No.

No.

Death and destruction.

Even just plainly looking at the numbers – is locking all of these people up good for us in the long or short run? Sure, in the immediate, it may appear to be good for some communities, but absolutely devastating to others. And the ways this out-of-control first-strike is destroying the latter communities means it will have ripple effects on all of the other communities as well.

Prison Culture does not invest but rather divests from communities of color. When we say ‘war,’ this is what we are saying: It ravages and destroys and does not build but is only there for the taking. Only. There. To. Suck. Life. Dry.

In a year when dozens of schools were closed in Chicago and the remaining ones had their budgets cut by 15-20%, our public monies lie in not investing – but in locking up. We say there is no money to put into the small black-owned business. But there is plenty of money to bar black businessmen and women who find few options but to sell illicit materials. Meanwhile white collar businessmen/women are given golden parachutes after committing wide-spread, tumultuous violence on middle- and working-class families.

Precogs don’t recognize that violence. It doesn’t compute.

What needs to be acknowledged is that we have locked up a few possibly incorrectible career criminals at the expense of millions who made a couple mistakes. So the numbers may be down, but we have solved nothing. We are not preventing criminals but creating them.

And we may have locked up the wrong ones.

Mr Mayor, This Is Our Town

Walking through my library and I notice a framed photo of our mayor towards the front, in the information table. It’s where we can find out about events and about what the community and the library are doing.

And it struck me that Rahm Emanuel, like many politicians, is in a position of power and works hard to cultivate this image of his position of power. Not just as a benevolent or wise leader (which is untrue and anybody paying attention to the city and how it is handling the non-business district/non-White Chicago portions of town will figure this out), but as a powerful person and from whom all blessings flow.

Follow him and we get our bike trails, we get our libraries, we get to keep our schools or get better schools (which is the trade-off lie he is selling now that nobody – again, nobody paying attention – is listening to).

But that’s not true. A mayor is a manager. We are in charge of what we desire, what we need, what we have, and who we give it to.

Emanuel is our puppet. Not for the 0.01%. Not for the neo-liberals. Not for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange or DePaul University or Chicago Parking Meters LLC. But for ALL of Chicago.

It’s damned time we remind him of who is in charge.

Gunistianity

Bob Davis, radio talk show host and devout Gunistian:

I have something I want to say to the victims of Newtown, or any other shooting: I don’t care if it’s here in Minneapolis or anyplace else. Just because a bad thing happened to you doesn’t mean that you get to put a king in charge of my life. I’m sorry that you suffered a tragedy, but you know what? Deal with it, and don’t force me to lose my liberty, which is a greater tragedy than your loss. I’m sick and tired of seeing these victims trotted out, given rides on Air Force One, hauled into the Senate well, and everyone is just afraid — they’re terrified of these victims.

I would stand in front of them and tell them, “go to hell.”

I hear the same shit over and over again to those of us who seek solutions to the gun violence that plagues our lives and communities:

  • You are being too emotional.
  • You will strike at my constitutional liberties.
  • God – through his Holy Instrument the US Constitution – wants us to be well-armed.
  • Chicago and big cities are full of bad people and the people should take the city back by buying more guns.

These responses strike at the heart of several issues. But largely I’ve come to see it’s about a love of violence in a nation that has been prepped from childhood to believe that violence done by the right people is the solution to all of our problems. It will be the undoing of us all – our love and adoration of the Redemptive Violence Myth.

As I’ve said before here, people from outside of Chicago like to tell us what our problems are. More so, they like to give us the solutions to our problems. And the solution is guns. it’s always guns. Guns are to Redemptive Violenters what Batman is to DC fans. The answer for everything.

Want to make your streets safer? Guns.

Want to protect your kids? Give teachers guns.

Want to rid the world of crime? Give the good guys guns.

How do you prevent rape? Give your daughter a gun.

How do you stop domestic violence? Give the gal a gun!

Guns are sacred to them because violence is sacred. Violence is the religion. Christianity is just the window dressing.

Jesus did not preach nor practice violence. He preached and practiced love in the face of overwhelming violence. You can choose one or the other.

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Put away your sword, Petey. Everyone who lives by the sword will die by the sword..

-Jesus

Chicago Tuesdays: Why local?

Tonight a few thousand Chicagoans are going to be grilling mayoral candidates about issues of local interest in UIC. While most of the world is interested in Rahm “Hammer” Emanuel, this forum excites me with the possibility of introducing Miguel del Valle to these entrenched citizens. Community activists of the most pure type, they are here to fight for the rights of their families and their neighbors. And I love them for that. (Suck on that, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin)

Speaking of Beck and Palin (and…. SUCK IT!), I realize that they are the big names. That if I want traffic to my site, all I need to do is talk about them – or some other big national name, but the KKKlowns tend to be the biggest draw – and then post a link on some sort of (usually left-leaning) political-interest/humor site. But the problem is, as much as I can’t stand those ignorant racists and the profit-induced lies they spew, they really don’t have much to do with the everyday mechanisms of our daily worlds (well, maybe they helped destroy true health care reform. Thanks for letting my extended family members suffer, a**holes!).

Although all politics ain’t local, much of it is. The groundwork sure is. It seems obvious that most of the concern for politics in this nation only occurs every four years, at the election of a president. But of course, with the division of power in this country, and with its immense size, the president really only has so much power (though executive orders and the scope of the military industrial complex and ‘homeland security’ industrial complex, etc., have enlarged it in scary proportions lately). Localized communities, however, have more access to their local pols and policies.

Take, for instance, two issues we’ve been dealing with at this site for a while: health care access and affordable housing. Both issues could use some national help, for sure (creating laws that recognize health care and housing as a fundamental human right issue could be one such way, for starters), but, if we’re honest, the work to accomplish such practicalities is local. Even if nationally we were to establish, say, Single Payer Health Care, we must acknowledge that that only changes the way hospitals and hcp’s are paid, and the way that we – as a collective society – pay for our care. It can’t, however, make sure that the hospitals, techs, nurses, and doctors provide equitable care to Black and Latino populations. And their neighborhoods.

Housing is also very local. Of course this only makes sense – after all, prices for a place in Manhattan are going to wildly vary from the same space in Aurora, Cleveland, Chicago, LA, Oak Lawn, Boston, or Seattle. In fact, in Chicago, it should become even more localized. The rubric for measuring what housing is “affordable” in this area is based on not just what the median payment is for a rental in the city, but in the surrounding collar counties – which includes the super-affluent North Shore. So, someone paying $600 for a three-bedroom in Garfield Park (ok, I totally made that up) is not going to be considered as weighty because someone is paying four times as much for something like that in Wicker Park, six times as much in Lincoln Park, and eight times as much in Wilmette. The result is that what is deemed as “affordable” in Chicago is not affordable for the typical working class family. People who typically make $20,000 a year between two jobs shouldn’t have to pay half or more than that just to keep their families indoors.

Having said all of that, I’m going to try to maintain Chicago Tuesdays and ask my blogging friends to also have periodical local features (if not local blogs). I’m also in the process of adding a blogroll of Chicago interests. If you know of any worthwhile Chicago-area sites, please keep me informed. Thanks!

* Chicago and suburbs neighborhoods map courtesy of http://www.wildonions.org/Neighborhoods-Suburbs.htm

Chicago Tuesdays (Late Edition): Bad News, Good News

First, the bad news. Bad, I suppose, if you were hoping for miracles in this city. But I like to be hopeful; it’s a nice change of pace. Check out the xtranormal ‘toon here.
 

Last week 13 members of a committee defied Daley and forwarded the ordinance to set aside 20 percent of the city’s annual tax increment financing revenues toward affordable housing to a full city council vote last Wednesday.

With more than half of the aldermen in support, sponsor Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) was concerned that a few might “double cross” he and others who have worked since last spring to bring the ordinance to vote.

One week later the ordinance was back in the joint committee after intervention by the Mayor’s office. In the end, it was Burnett who decided to avoid the full vote. He decided that the wiser course of action was to negotiate a new substitute ordinance over the original—one that Daley could agree on while satisfying other aldermen now seeking amendments and reelection.

One possible amendment rips the guts out of the affordable housing ordinance by turning the articulated mandate to spend 20 percent of annual TIF dollars—about $100 million in 2009—into an unenforceable goal.

But now for some good news, just in time for our elaborately long winter season (care of Humboldt Park Portal News):

Eight years of hard work, long hours, and countless SOS calls culminated today in the opening of Humboldt Park Social Services’ (HPSS) new interim-housing facility for men. Deborah McCoy, HPSS Board President, cut the ribbon for this new 22-bed facility that will allow homeless men to transition from emergency shelter to interim housing.

During an impassioned speech, Delia Ramirez, HPSS Executive Director, explained that this new model is critically important. Emergency facilities only provide extremely temporary shelter – often no more than one night, given intense demand. Interim housing, on the other hand, provides several months of shelter along with the wraparound services essential to a successful transition from homelessness to permanent housing and independent living.

Through its Center for Changing Lives and Center for Working Families, HPSS will offer such wraparound services as housing placement, housing relocation, housing counseling, and employment preparation to men housed within the facility. They will also offer job training to interim-housing residents through their soup kitchen, which feeds 100 people daily…

As a volunteer for the project, Dan Splaingard, Rose Architectural Fellow for Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, designed and helped build the custom bunk beds for the space that will serve as the sleeping area. He explained, “We were trying to make something that, while utilitarian, was trying to give a bit of an uplift . . . a quality of the handmade with colors that will imbue a sense of home.”

James, one of the inaugural residents of the facility, seemed to agree. The university graduate had always held a job, but suddenly found himself unemployed, then homeless, several months ago. He expressed gratitude for the services provided by HPSS, asserting, “We need more like them” in the community.

Sweet Home Chicago (Come On! Baby Don’t You Want to Go?)

Chances are, if you’re at all 1) a Chicagoan and 2) involved in local politics, you’ve heard of TIFs (Tax Incremental Financing). You also know that TIFs are a form of tax that are supposed to be diverted to help blighted communities (such as Lawndale) garner business interests and stay together. Of course, they’re not being used for that purpose. They’re largely being used to court big businesses that least need the incentives.

So, let’s make it about retaining community. Sweet Home Chicago is a coalition of various community groups that advocate for affordable housing funding from TIFs.
The Sweet Home proposal:

Each year the city would dedicate 20 percent of TIF funds collected towards affordable housing. If this were in effect in 2009, $99 million would have gone towards housing.
Developments would qualify to receive funds if 50 percent of the units were affordable to households earning less than $37,000 for a family of four. In addition, citywide, 40 percent of the units created each with the dedicated funds must serve households earning less than $22,600 a year for a family of four.
For housing that is for sale, units would have to be affordable to families of four earning less than $60,300. 

Please sign the petition for Sweet Home Chicago.

The ability to pay rent and stay housed comes before any other need of a community. If TIF (tax increment financing) dollars are meant to build and support blighted communities, there is surely no greater way for Chicago to use them than on affordable housing. 

Affordable housing needs to be a priority. It is the long-term sort of investment that is too often overlooked for short-sighted, quick infusions of cash that don’t sustain communities. We agree with other housing advocates and organizations that the language of the Sweet Home Chicago bill can ensure planning flexibility while still prioritizing affordable housing.

Please don’t let this opportunity to ensure a place to live for Chicago’s neediest citizens pass by.

This petition is to let the Mayor and Councilmen of Chicago know that, as negotiations on the bill move forward, the provision of affordable housing must remain a priority.