Last night, the Filament Theatre in Portage Park hosted a panel and conversation on segregation and affordability in Chicago. The event was organized by Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park, an organization created earlier this year during the course of a vitriolic debate surrounding a new mixed-income development in Jefferson Park.

The proposed development would include about 80 below-market rate units; it’s a plan that has sparked criticism (and a lawsuit) from some neighbors, many who say their main worry is the possible influx of crime that new affordable housing could bring to the area. Other Jeff Park residents have argued that the opposition’s concerns are a form of lightly disguised racism, dog-whistle politics in a city with a long history of racial segregation.

Yesterday’s panel was partly educational, partly an attempt to keep residents organized during the slow summer months—the developer, Full Circle Communities, is working to secure funding before rezoning its part of the land parcel. Organizers from NAHJP said they hope the proposal will go before the city’s zoning committee in the fall.

“There’s been a bit of a lull in mobilization, so we want to keep people invested and informed by pointing to some of the historical and structural issues around the history of segregation in Chicago,” says Nick Kryczka, one of the panelists. Kryczka is a Jefferson Park resident and PhD candidate in the history department at the University of Chicago. The other two panelists were Daniel Kay Hertz, policy analyst at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, and Alden Loury, director of research at the Metropolitan Planning Council. Earlier this year, Loury helped put together the wide-ranging “Cost of Segregation Report from the MPC and the Urban Institute, examining the economic and social effects of segregation in Chicago.

Here are some of the main takeaways from the event.

On the history of the 45th Ward, and the lessons we can draw from it

Nick Kryczka: The depressing news is that some things haven't changed since 1971. I found two photos, taken by newspapers at exactly the same address and motivated by exactly the same set of political problems. This year’s photo shows local opposition to a mixed-income development at 5150 North Northwest Highway, staged in front of Alderman John Arena’s office. The 1971 photo shows protesters in front of then-Alderman Edward Fifielski’s office, voicing their opposition to the Chicago Housing Authority’s plans to construct low-rise, scattered-site public housing. Fifielski was deeply invested in protecting Jefferson Park’s homeowner character from what he called the cancer of multi-unit apartment buildings. He had already drawn up a petition in opposition to the CHA’s plans. 

Public housing tenants and low-income renters can still be used as a political football for a certain brand of racial homeowner politics. But more hopefully, for every time that racial backlash occurred, there were those who refused it and organized for something better. The opponents of affordable housing are not the only ones who get to lay claim to local history to make a case for neighborhood character.

Housing activists that came of age during this era realized that there were hard limits to an American dream that cast housing as a commodity that could be bought, sold, rented, and bet on. It provoked deeper questions about how to protect people from the volatility and exploitation that seemed to be a part of the market itself.

On quantifying the costs of segregation

Alden Loury:  The report found a relationship between the level of black-white segregation and per capita income, homicide rates, and the number of bachelor's degrees attained by both blacks and whites. To what degree does this cost us? If we were at the national median for black-white segregation, we’d have 4.4 billion dollars more in annual regional income. We'd have 30 percent fewer homicides in the Chicago region—that’s 229 lives saved in 2016. And we'd have 83,000 more bachelor's degrees total over a ten-year period.

On why the city's efforts to encourage mixed-income housing haven't worked

Daniel Kay Hertz:The affordable requirements ordinance basically says if you build a new residential development in Chicago, you have to set aside ten percent of your units for low-income housing, or pay a fee. It was meant to create integrated, affordable housing in areas with luxury development—and it has been successful in some areas. But many developers pay the fee instead. There is another option, for them to build up to three-quarters of the affordable units off-site—the original draft of the ordinance said up to a mile away. The final draft—after some choice lobbying—said it was up to two miles away. As everyone knows, if you go two miles in Chicago, you can cross through three completely different neighborhoods.

This is clearly not a transformational affordable housing program. The city recently revamped it, but it still predicts that we're only going to get about 100 units a year citywide.

On who's living in these pricey buildings anyway

Hertz:  Who could afford to live in one of these new developments on Milwaukee Avenue for $3,500 a month for a two-bedroom? Over the course of the housing crisis, lots of people switched from owning to renting, and that hasn't gone back. And many of these people are young and earn a lot of money. In Cook County there are 36,000 new renter households making at least $125,000 a year since 2007. To put that in perspective, that’s larger than the entire population of Jefferson Park and Portage Park combined.

On the historical difference between black-white and Latino-white segregation in Chicago

Kryczka: The legacies of segregation map onto the color line between black and non-black communities. There never was the regime of racial covenant restrictions that prevented latinos from settling in certain areas. Mexican migration into Chicago began in the 1910s, and they could move into areas that black people could not. And that remained true through what they called the first ghetto, the first era of racial segregation for African Americans. There is a unique historical problem that attaches to the African American experience in the 20th century that is not the same as the residential patterns that Latino Americans experienced in Chicago.