Alderman's support of subsidized housing draws community outrage in Jefferson Park
A crowd of about 200 protestors gathered and lined the sidewalk in front of 45th Ward Alderman John Arena’s office yesterday, Feb. 21, objecting the construction of the proposed 10-story, 100-unit low-income subsidized housing project in the Jefferson Park neighborhood.
Protestors for and against the housing project gathered during the alderman’s weekly hours with signs and chants for the two-hour event. Police were also in attendance, but no violence was reported.
Members of the Northwest GOP called out, “Everybody’s welcome, four stories or less,” and “Arena’s gotta go.”
Arena, an Aurora native first elected in 2011 after longtime alderman Patrick Levar retired from office, is among the most left-wing members of the Chicago City Council.
Chicago Rising, a self-described "anti-capitalist" and anarchist group that grew out of the socialist-inspired
"Occupy Chicago," was present with about 12 members to support Arena. They were also holding signs and chanting.
Matt Podgorski, chairman at the Northwest GOP Club, made contact with a couple members in support of Chicago Rising at the protest. As noted by video footage, they would not comment on why they were counter-protesting or if they lived in Jefferson Park where the building would be constructed.
The 12 Chicago Rising counter-protestors were chanting, “Affordable housing is welcome here. No hate, no fear.”
But subsidized housing often transforms communities, as government voucher recipients "undermine the neighborhood," according to housing expert Howard Husock of City Journal, who has written extensively on the subject.
Husock has chronicled how housing vouchers destroyed middle-class black communities in Chicago's south suburbs as well as Italian and Irish ones in south Philadelphia.
One interviewee told Husock that "the house next door is being rented to people whose kids are up all night, who are out in the street yelling 'M-F' this and 'M-F' that. It's like they're trying to find the worst people." The issue, he said, "isn't race; it's class."
Prior to the protest, Chicago Rising sent out an online invite asking interested individuals to attend the event in order to counter-protest the GOP.
The community opposes Arena's push to bring more low-income, subsidized housing to Jefferson Park, according to Podgorski.
Podgorski noted that previously -- about a year and a half ago -- Arena was in agreement with the GOP club and members of the community to limit housing developments to four stories. The bottom floor was to be used as a retail store, with the remaining floors filled with apartments or condos.
"Arena changed his mind, right in the middle of this agreement,” Podgorski said.
He said the Northwest GOP Club held a community meeting, attended by Arena, to express concerns and thoughts about the new project.
“He didn’t listen: we want him to stick to his original agreement,” Podgorski said. “We don’t know why he did this and we are very upset with him. He didn’t listen at our meeting.”
Podgorski wondered if Arena had a deal with a building developer. He said his group will do whatever it takes to save Jefferson Park.
Arena’s next election will be in 2019.