New area threatened by eminent domain in Chicago

hands-off-home.gifOn Tuesday, the Chicago Community Development Commission approved the Ogden-Pulaski tax increment financing district. The TIF comes with a $100 million budget and the power to use eminent domain for economic development. There are currently 41 properties that would be qualify to be condemned by the city.

The TIF streches across 876 acres of the Lawndale neighborhood on the city’s west side. It’s a tight-knit community in a poor, predominantly elderly African-American community.

Threatened resident Chaka Cutewayo, who has lived in the neighborhood for 57 years, captured the sentiment of many opposed to the plan:

“We have paid taxes, dealt with the gangbangers and the drug dealers all these years and now they want to kick us out,” he said. “They should have offered us grants to rebuild. You don’t see those avenues for the people [of North Lawndale.]”

Only one member of the CDC voted against approving the TIF. Chicago’s aldermen basically rule their own wards, and the dissenting CDC member, Anne Kostiner, took them to task:

“People wanted to be involved before today,” Kostiner said. “It’s a sad day today, when people have threatened to guard their homes with their own lives. Why have you as alderman refused to see this?”

Castle Coalition Coordinator Christina Walsh was in the neighborhood last week to help organize the citizens’ group, the Lawndale Alliance, that will work to ensure that the city takes out the threat of eminent domain. The Chi-Town Daily News reported on the Alliance’s press conference:

“North Lawndale is under seige,” said Valerie Leonard, founder of the Alliance. She noted that the neighborhood, with a median income of $18,000, had experienced 141 mortgage foreclosures between January and November 2007 and that many residents had seen their property tax bills double in the past year.

“There are no systems in place to ensure that local residents, not newcomers and developers, actually benefit from this plan….” said Leonard. “Unfortunately, wealthy individuals, nonprofits and foundations have a greater voice in our community’s development than the people within the TIF boundaries.”

Joe Ann Bradley, a co-founder of the Alliance, said that, similar to Lincoln Square residents, Alliance members wanted assurances written into the plan that the city would not use its power of eminent domain to force property owners to sell.Some residents complained that newly renovated buildings are on a list of “housing potentially subject to displacement.”

The plan will go before the Chicago City Council next month for approval. Given the fact that Chicago currently has more than 140 TIF districts, the city council is little more than a rubber stamp in this process.