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James Bovard warns residents of Jefferson Park that they need look no further than the opposite side of the city to see what a proposed low-income, subsidized housing complex could mean for their neighborhood.
The plan, backed by 45th Ward Alderman John Arena, would nearly double the amount of subsidized housing in the neighborhood.
“It could be the Chatham aftermath all over again,” Bovard, a noted libertarian author and lecturer, told the Chicago City Wire.
Chatham is a South Side neighborhood that has seen a dramatic rise in crime and drop in property values after a flood of Section 8 residents with housing vouchers moved into the area.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Chatham ranked sixth among Chicago's 77 neighborhoods in violent crime reports in the last month of 2016.
Bovard said what happened in Chatham could happen in Jefferson Park. He’s studied the issue for years and says the results are usually the same. He points to Baltimore as another such example.
“Violent crime is absolutely greater in neighborhoods of resettlement,” he said. “HUD has lied. In many instances, people being moved into these once middle-class neighborhoods with nothing more than the housing vouchers handed to them are coming from some of the highest crime-impacted areas in the country, and they’re taking the habits with them.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that between 2000 and 2009, the percentage of vacant homes in Chatham nearly doubled, and owner-occupied housing dropped by a full 5 percent.
In Jefferson Park, the proposal calls for a seven-story, mixed-income residential development on the corner of Northwest Highway and Milwaukee Avenue that would boast 100 units, one-fifth of which would be reserved for low-income residents.
The project is slated begin in the summer of 2018 and has the backing of Arena, who maintains the development could serve to jump start the neighborhood’s economy. He reasons that the new subsidized residents will have more disposable income to spend at nearby businesses because of the lower rent they'll pay.
“If you’re on Section 8, no income means no responsibility,” he said. “There’s no incentive to work and concern yourself with things like property upkeep. Over time, that only comes to drive property values down.”
Pat Gamboney has lived in Jefferson Park his whole life and owns several properties there. He turned out at a community meeting recently to let it be known he doesn’t want to see the neighborhood transformed into something he won't recognize.
“I’ve talked with people all over the neighborhood, some of them I’ve known since high school, and we all say the same thing: Namely, what if this plan drives crime up and lowers property values," Gamboney said. "We don’t want to take that chance.”
Meanwhile, Arena and developer Full Circle Communities are doing everything they can to allay those fears, assuring residents that each potential tenant will be screened for felonies and drug crimes before being allowed to live in the mix of 51 three-bedroom, 17 two-bedrooms, 22 one-bedroom and 10 studio apartments with rents as low as $300 per month.
“They can say all the right things and even try to safeguard against some of the troubles that always seem to come up,” Bovard said. “But in the end, the truth is the truth, and these kinds of projects tend to change the neighborhoods impacted by them for the absolute worst.”