By Patrick Butler
Careful development of the plan-ned El Paseo bike path and existing community garden and their relation to the overall preservation of what is left of affordable housing were among the concerns voiced at a recent Pilsen Alliance meeting.
Preserving a family friendly, working class haven took center stage at the two-and-a-half-hour June 6 meeting at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St.
Frank Avellone of the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing ticked off some grim statistics threatening the dream of affordable housing and called for protective action.
Noting that Chicago’s 627,000 rental units serve half the city’s population, Avellone added that half the city’s residents are “rent burdened,” paying 30% of their total income just for housing.
Compounding the problem, he said, “are about 30,000 evictions a year, over 25% without just cause. Depending on how you count, Chicago has a shortage of between 120,000 and 220,000 affordable housing units.”
As Avellone explained, “Good housing is more than just a roof over one’s head. Good housing is an integral part of a resilient, thriving community interconnected with jobs that pay decent wages, access to healthy foods, good public transportation, and good public education that fosters development of the whole human being.”
Creating a thriving community requires developing assets like the El Paseo Community Garden and proposed El Paseo bicycle trail, said neighborhood activist Paula Acevedo. The garden is located at 944 W. 21st St., and the City plans a bicycle path along four miles of unused BNSF railroad tracks in Pilsen and Little Village.
Joined by other concerned citizens including Kim Wasserman of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and students from DePaul University’s Urban Development Program, Acevedo said “neighborhood friendly” does not mean turning the community around the Paseo into another “606” bike path. Adjacent to the 606 bike path, which is located on the North Side, property values have escalated to the point that many neighbors no longer can afford to stay, she noted.
The 2.7-mile 606 elevated bike path along former railroad property runs through Logan Square, Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Humboldt Park. Since it opened about two years ago, complaints have risen about escalating property values along the 606 tracks, forcing low and middle-income residents out of the neighborhood.
The planned Paseo bike path would run from 16th and Sangamon Streets to the area around 32nd Street and Central Park Avenue.
“We want the Paseo to be a place where real people can afford to stay, not some idealized postcard version,” Acevedo said.
Acevedo and Pilsen Alliance leader Byron Sigcho noted affordable housing activists have made good progress over the last few months. Among those gains were a yes vote during the last primary on an advisory referendum on whether Chicago residents should be allowed to vote on whether to scrap the state law barring rent controls in Chicago.
Yet the battle for renters’ rights is far from over, Sigcho said.
“We need to see more community input on the Paseo, make sure this doesn’t displace more people and generates jobs for the people who live here,” Sigcho said. “This requires action. We want to be part of that Chicago Five Year Housing Plan created in 2014, which foresees spending more than $1.3 billion to develop and improve over 41,000 housing units and pledged neighborhood-level meetings to educate contractors and developers about existing city housing programs,” he added.
The plan’s overall goal includes avoiding tenant displacement, preserving affordability, expanding opportunities for home ownership, and dealing with homelessness.
“But we need to continue the push against displacement,” Sigcho said. “Housing and local jobs must be a top concern,” he noted.
These are not the only issues the community must face over the next few months. Sigcho mentioned the question of what should happen to the shuttered coal plants in the community.
It’s not enough to close the Fink Generating Station at 1131 W. Cermak Road and the Crawford Station at 3501 S. Pulaski Road, Sigcho said. He called for redeveloping the sites and retraining those who worked at the two plants.
“You’re going to be hearing from us on our next steps very soon,” Sigcho assured his neighbors.