Obama Presidential Center Brings Rising Costs to Low-Income Chicago Residents

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 28: Former U.S. President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama participate in a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park on September 28, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Construction of the center was delayed by a long legal battle undertaken by residents …
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As the Obama Presidential Center continues construction near Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, many low-income residents are asking the city for protection over fears that property taxes, insurance, and interest rates will skyrocket as the neighborhood changes to a more upscale area.

Many residents of the Woodlawn and South Shore neighborhoods fear being driven out of their homes due to rising rents and house prices as the area changes once the Obama Center opens, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The City Council has already enacted an ordinance that they hope will protect legacy residents that the Obama Center will affect. But the Coalition for a Community Benefits Agreement, a group formed to look after the interests of long-standing residents, wants more.

The group says that some residents have been left out of the city’s plan, and they want those homeowners and renters included. Residents are “scared that South Shore one day is going to look like Hyde Park, but none of us are going to be here anymore,” project creator Eva Maria Lewis told the paper.

“No one here is trying to stop the Obama Center,” organizer Dixon Romeo added.

But activists are most worried that black residents will be slowly pushed out of the neighborhoods where the first black president is building his eponymous complex.

Some of the demands include launching a sizeable public housing program in the neighborhoods to make the areas less attractive to high-income families; measures to prevent displacement; and caps on fees, taxes, and other costs for residents — including building owners, renters, and single-family homeowners — and other measures.

The Obama Center — it isn’t a “presidential library” like other such installations because Obama won’t house his papers and records there — has stirred trouble in other areas, as well. Since the City Council allowed Obama to begin building his edifice in Jackson Park, several lawsuits were filed to stop the project. At issue are park rules that once said that no new building developments were allowed on parklands.

In 2018, Protect Our Parks, a Chicago nonprofit, filed a lawsuit in federal court to block construction of the Obama Center, claiming the organizers diverted the center’s purpose away from operating as a presidential library.

Despite the lawsuits and Obama’s promise not to materially alter the park until after settling the issues, Obama began ripping out hundred-year-old trees in the park the same year the lawsuits were first filed.

The lawsuits delayed the groundbreaking for the Obama Center until this year. A groundbreaking ceremony was finally held this September.

Still, even as some lawsuits continue to wind through the courts, a federal judge recently denied a request to halt construction of the center and is allowing the plans to go forward.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Facebook at: facebook.com/Warner.Todd.Huston.

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