Bronzeville – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.11 In Bronzeville: school closings, violence, Wal-Mart, and TIFs http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/at-overton-school-closings-violence-wal-mart-and-tifs/ Wed, 15 May 2013 00:58:22 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7199 Two actions protested the closing of Overton Elementary in Bronzeville today — a morning rally highlighting safety issues (and much more), and an afternoon action, which raised larger issues of resources by drawing the connection to a Walmart being built nearby with TIF funds.

About a hundred parents marched from Overton, at 49th and Indiana, to Mollison, at 44th and King  — past four gangs and four drug locations, according to Francis Newman, a parent from Williams Prep, which is also on the school closing list.

The walk also took them past the spot where Columbia College student Kevin Ambrose was shot and killed last week, she noted.

“We’re demanding these schools be kept open and that they get the resources they need,” Newman said.  She said she recently visited Disney Magnet school, which has numerous computers, smart boards, and iPads for children.  “In our school, we can’t get a computer that works,” she said.

The real status-quo

The idea that “schools are under-resourced because they’re underutilized is a lie that is used to validate the status quo,” said Jeanette Taylor, an LSC member at Mollison and a leader with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.  “The status quo in Chicago is closing schools.”

Several parents discussed schools that had struggled after repeatedly receiving students from closing schools and are still being subject to school actions.

A hearing officer has recommended keeping Overton open, challenging CPS’s assertion that Mollison is a higher-performing school, which is based on its highly technical system of performance points.

“Closing this school to bring children from Overton to Mollison doesn’t sound like education reform it me, is sounds like sabotage,” Taylor said.

Overton parent Darlene Johnson said she served as a Safe Passage worker at Dyett High School last year.  “A boy walked past us, turned the corner, and was shot,” she said.

She also raised the issue of budget priorities:  “We say no money to McCormick Place for a DePaul arena, no TIF money for Wal-Mart — and why does that rich lady that used to be on the school board need all that TIF money?”  She was referring to Penny Pritzker.

Wal-Mart connections

That was also the theme of an afternoon rally that started at the school and ended at the site of a new Wal-Mart at 47th and King Drive, featuring Wal-Mart workers from OUR Wal-Mart and Warehouse Workers for Justice, along with the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Jobs With Justice.

The Walmart development on 47th is being subsidized with $13 million in TIF money, on top of an $11 million TIF subsidy for a new Walmart in Pullman, organizers said.  On top of that, the Walton family foundation gave close to a half-million dollars to finance CPS’s school closing “community engagement”  (including advertising).

Walmart’s owners have also given $22 million to charters in Chicago — their largest investment in charters in the nation — organizers said.

The world’s largest employer — and the nation’s wealthiest family — “can afford to build their own store without our tax dollars,” said Susan Hurley of JWJ.  “That money should be going to our schools.  We could save a lot of schools with $24 million.

“And they need to do a lot better by their workers before they start telling us how to run our schools.”

“Why does Walmart and the Walton Family, who don’t live in Chicago, have more say about our schools than the people who send their children there?” asked Kristine Mayle of CTU.  “It’s because they have the same agenda as the mayor, which is … to privatize them.”

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Bronzeville youth, community leaders to speak on violence http://www.newstips.org/2013/02/bronzeville-youth-community-leaders-to-speak-on-violence/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/02/bronzeville-youth-community-leaders-to-speak-on-violence/#comments Wed, 13 Feb 2013 23:47:30 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6968 While politicians push tougher law enforcement to address youth violence, community leaders and youth in Bronzeville are demanding that the root causes of violence — including unemployment, disinvestment, and school closings — be put at the top of the agenda.

At 4 p.m. on Thursday, February 12 14, youth leaders from five high schools — including King College Prep, where Hadiya Pendleton was a student, and where one of the suspects in her murder graduated – will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. at Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st Street.  They’re part of Leaders Investing For Equality (LIFE), which for several years has pushed for restoration of funding cut from youth employment programs.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, the Bronzeville Alliance and Centers for New Horizons will hold a press conference at the Ellis Childcare Center, 4301 S. Cottage, to launch a community initiative to coordinate social services for community youth and families and to advocate for a reversal of cutbacks they say have destabilized the community.

In media coverage of youth violence, “there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of the root causes of these problems and the responsiblity of government and the private sector for years of disinvestment in minority communities,” said John Owens of CNH.

“We’ve had many years of jobs being lost and cutbacks in a whole range of social services – and the whole idea of closing schools is just another form of cutbacks,” he said.

“There’s been no discussion of youth employment, no discussion of the destabilization of families when jobs are lost and parents are working odd hours, no discussion of afterschool programs that are relevant,” Owens said.  “The bottom line is that we need to understand what it means to build community and we need to start building it – with the kind of resources that are needed for a community in crisis.”

Owen said CNH and other Bronzeville agencies are trying to provide developmental social services, “but everybody is barely keeping their doors open. There are not enough of us and we are not funded anywhere near what would be adequate to reach the number of youth and families out there who are in need.”

The new coalition, dubbed SAVE (Stop Armed Violence Everywhere), is calling on the city and state to work with residents to restore employment, educational, mental health and recreational resources in Bronzeville.  They are demanding meetings with Governor Quinn and Mayor Emanuel.

The coalition includes local schools, social service agencies, community groups, and business and veterans groups, Owens said.

The Bronzeville Alliance issued a call to the media “to avoid body-count journalism and drive-by reporting that criminalizes our community and tends to look at this very complex problem in narrow, counter-productive terms.”

It calls for an approach that is “pro-active, holistic, and sustainable.”

Youth leaders from LIFE will highlight public school closings, reduced funding for summer youth employment and limited recreational opportunities as”catalysts of community destabilization,” according to a statement from Shannon Bennett of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which backs LIFE.

“Policy decisions made without consultation with the people directly impacted have led to destabilization of communities and increased violence in neighborhoods, particularly communities of color,” according to the statement.

“Summer youth employment was decimated over the last 20 years, and only one-third of the youth who apply each year for summer jobs find work. There is very little teen-specific programming in communities around Chicago serving out-of-school and severely at-risk youth.

“School actions implemented by the Chicago Board of Education have led to the creation of new youth gangs and the 300 percent increase in homicides in north Kenwood-Oakland.”

[See previous Newstips on LIFE from 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011]

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King tribute raises disparities in public services for South Side http://www.newstips.org/2013/01/king-tribute-raises-disparities-in-public-services-for-south-side/ Sat, 12 Jan 2013 14:54:53 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6875 A Sunday tribute to Martin Luther King’s legacy will seek to hold elected officials accountable for addressing disparities in public services for South Side residents, including the lack of a major park facility in Bronzeville.

Dr. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church will keynote the “Call for Accountability,” sponsored by Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Sunday, January 13 at 2:30 p.m. at West Point Missionary Baptist Church, 3556 S. Cottage Grove.

Elected officials in attendance will be asked to support a new arts and recreation facility for Bronzeville.

Pointing out that there’s no large, “Class A” park district fieldhouse between the Loop and 55th Street east of the Dan Ryan, SOUL has been organizing for such a facility to be located at 35th and Cottage Grove.  Several area churches and park advisory councils have signed on to the campaign.

Support will also be solicited for a Cook County Land Bank — with a goal of rehabbing up to a thousand vacant foreclosed homes in the next two years — and for a CTA bus route on 31st Street.

The 31st Street route was eliminated in 1998 as a cost-cutting measure.  CTA recently extended the 35th Street bus to cover 31st Street from Kedzie to Cicero on a trial basis.

The Bridgeport Alliance, a member organization of SOUL, has been working to restore the entire line, said Shani Smith.  Currently there’s no bus service for Bridgeport and Bronzeville between Cermak and 35th Street, a mile-and-a-half gap.

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School closings, the law, and alternatives http://www.newstips.org/2011/11/school-closings-the-law-and-alternatives/ Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:08:50 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4981 School closings to be announced by CPS on Thursday—expected to be unprecedented in scope — are the first under a new state school facilities planning law, intended to bring transparency and accountability to decisions over school buildings.

But does the school district’s new guidelines for school actions, which must be finalized by November 30, abide by the spirit of the law?  Many of its proponents – and some of its legislative sponsors – say no.

Meanwhile community groups continue to call on CPS to work with communities to improve struggling schools, rather than imposing top-down strategies that have no record of success.

“I don’t see them as being really ready to adhere to SB 630,” said State Representative Esther Golar, a member of the legislative task force which developed the bill.   The legislation “was intended to require CPS to work as partner with parents, teachers, and the community.”

She adds: “That’s something they haven’t been doing….And they’re still saying we’re going to run the schools the way we want to, and you don’t have any say-so.”

“It’s the same failed policies,” said Dwayne Truss, co-chair of the Austin Community Action Council, established by CPS.  “They just want to open up buildings for more charter schools.”

‘Too vague’

The guidelines for actions are so broad that they leave nearly a quarter of CPS schools open to action, circumventing SB 630’s attempt to encourage transparency in school closing decisions and limit the administration’s ability to act in an arbitrary manner, supporters of the law say.

The guidelines are “too vague,” said Golar.

By using school performance and probationary status as the basic standard for school actions, CPS relies on statistically questionable measurements – and risks exposing its own failure to meet obligations to schools on probation, said Don Moore of Designs for Change.

The number of schools on probation, now amounting to 42 percent of CPS schools, mainly reflects “erratic changes in the CPS probation policy from year to year,” said Moore.  “A large number of Chicago’s probation schools are scoring very well and carrying out good practices,” he said.

Probation standards are currently set to include nearly all schools with significant low-income enrollment, he said.  Schools making steady progress can end up on probation if they slip a couple of points one year.  Due to complex (and controversial) “trend” score calculations, some schools on probation actually have higher scores than schools that aren’t.

Nor does the performance policy account for many challenges faced by neighborhood schools.  Truss points to two Austin schools:  Louis Armstrong Elementary and Plato contract school, located nearby.  Armstrong has 27 percent of its students getting special education, versus 11.4 percent at Plato; the mobility rates are 24.6 percent versus 8.5.  “And Armstrong takes in third graders that Plato doesn’t want,” he said — just in time for tests.

Charter schools, most of which have scores comparable to neighborhood schools, are exempt from the district’s performance policy.

Schools on probation neglected

Moore underscores a common complaint by critics of the guidelines:  “CPS has consistently failed to carry out its own obligations under the probation policy.”

“The schools on probation, what help have they received from CPS?” asked State Reprentative Cynthia Soto, who co-chairs the facilities task force, talking with the Tribune.

At a recent hearing on the school action guidelines held by CPS on the West Side, parents at Marconi Elementary argued CPS has never addressed the problems which led to probation for the school, Catalyst reported.

“The school’s air conditioning is broken, they don’t have a gym, there’s no computer lab, no science lab, ceilings are falling in – there are a lot of issues,” said West Side activist Carol Johnson, who works with Truss in the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.  “CPS officials did a walk-through, they have a list of everything that parents said they needed, but they haven’t done anything.”

“If you’re going to turn around a school and then put in resources, that doesn’t seem right,” she said.  “If you’re going to give resources, do it before you close the school.”

CPS has failed to follow the mandates of state law governing probation – a possible ground for opposing school closings based on probationary status, said Moore.

State law requires that schools placed on probation – under which control over school improvement plans, budgets, and principal hiring is taken from local school councils and given to the central administration – must get a plan from the school district outlining specific steps to be taken to correct identified shortcomings, with specific expenditures in the school budget targeting educational and operational deficiencies.

Supporters of schools facing closing could file freedom of information requests for documentation that these steps have been taken, Moore suggests.  CPS failure to comply would constitute grounds for independent hearing officers to determine that the district hasn’t met legal requirements to close the school.

What about charter performance?

The school action guidelines include a range of factors, and Golar said the legislative task force has written CPS raising a number of questions and concerns.

Some of these include: how do they measure student safety?  Are there any specific criteria for “co-locating” schools, or is that decision entirely up to the whim of CPS?  Will school actions result in smaller class sizes?  Why was the previous policy of exempting schools with new principals dropped?

And a big one for her:  why are charters and turnarounds not subject to the same performance requirements?

Golar has been pushing for accountability for charters since she was elected in 2006.  “Charter schools have the same issues traditional schools have, yet they don’t have the same performance measures,” she said.  “They have all these computer labs, longer school days, better books, all the things parents are asking for, and with all that, they’re still failing.”

It’s quite possible for students from closing schools to end up at charters that are performing no better, CTU has argued.

A neighborhood agenda

There’s an alternative.  Instead of disinvesting from and closing neighborhood schools, community organizations recently proposed an agenda to invest in and improve them.

It’s a comprehensive program – the proposal for college preparation and readiness begins with pre-school for all and full-day kindergarten in every school.  It’s based on the successes of community organizations that have worked in schools for years.

The agenda proposes that all neighborhood schools follow the community school model.  It includes programs like parent mentors in the classroom, smaller class sizes, arts education and recess, restorative justice and mental health services, local teacher development and improved bilingual education.  It stresses partnerships with community groups and community governance, including local school councils with decision-making power at every school, and support and training for LSCs.

In Bronzeville, community groups have worked for two years on a plan for Dyett High School and five elementary schools that feed into it.  Dyett would  become a Community High School of Green Technology and Leadership, and the elementary schools would focus variously on math, science, engineering, languages and global citizenship.

There would be curriculum alignment throughout the “village,” says Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, along with health centers, a social worker and nurse, social-emotional and leadership programming, restorative justice, safety patrols, and pre-K for all.

The groups have called for a moratorium on school closings in Bronzeville, which has been hard hit by closings over the past decade, and which has a large number of schools which meet the new criteria.

“We’ve had ten years of closings, consolidations, and turnarounds, and they have not helped our students,” said Andrea Lee of Grand Boulevard Federation.

Brown points out that Dyett was under-resourced when it was turned into a high school to serve students who couldn’t get into the new King College Prep;  a couple years later it was “completely destabilized” when Englewood High was closed and students were sent to Dyett.

Constant destabilization

“We have to defend ourselves against our own school district,” which is “setting up our schools to fail,” he said.

“We’re looking at schools being constantly destabilized with models that just don’t work – just moving children around – and no accountability when they don’t work,” he said.

There’s evidence that the alternative strategy works.  Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s community schools are nationally acclaimed, and in a high-poverty, high-crime area on the Southwest Side, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council has worked for eight years in schools and seen steady improvement in  achievement levels.

BPNC’s full-service community schools provide afterschool academic support for struggling kids and homework help for others, followed by two hours of enrichment activity – music, art, drama, sports, “everything you can think of,” said Patrick Brosnan.

There’s ESL, GED, citizenship, and computer classes for parents, aimed at assisting them in supporting their children in school. There’s parent and student leadership development.

Each school has a resource coordinator and a social worker.  Funding comes from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and other public and private sources.

“It’s building ownership over the school and trying to promote the school as a center of the community,” Brosnan said.  “We’ve seen tremendous results in schools that have a lot of challenges.”

Soto has announced the legislature’s Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force will hold a hearing on CPS school actions on Thursday, December 1 at 10 a.m. at the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle.

The Chicago Teachers Union is holding a teach-in on stopping  school closings for teachers, parents, and community groups on Saturday, December 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel.

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Occupy Austin, Occupy Bronzeville http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/occupy-austin-occupy-bronzeville/ Fri, 28 Oct 2011 21:51:06 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4873 Occupy Austin and Occupy Bronzeville, joined by people from Occupy Chicago, will begin a new drive to occupy foreclosures at actions on the West and South Sides tomorrow.

They’ll rally with tenants of a foreclosed building who are resisting what they say are illegal attempts to evict them from a 12-unit rental building, just two weeks after foreclosure.

Federal law requires tenants be given at least 90 days to move.  (See the recent Newstips post, Foreclosure and tenants: Banks break the law.)

“We’re saying these folks will not be moved,” said Elce Redmond of South Austin Coalition.  He said Occupy Austin would continue “organizing people on a day-to-day basis against the big banks.”  Their goal is “nonviolent mass organization to fight the greed and corruption of the top 1 percent and restore democracy in America.”

Redmond said the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing is representing the tenants in a lawsuit.

The rally starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 29, at 5960 W. North.

From there the groups will head to a housing resource fair at IIT’s Herman Hall, 3241 S. Federal where they’ll talk with homeowners seeking mortgage modifications.

“We want to see how many homeowners get modifications,” said Willie J. R. Fleming of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, a core group in Occupy Bronzeville, which is part of a nationwide Occupy the Hood movement.

“There are a lot of resource fairs going on since the collapse of the financial system, but we still have millions of people losing their homes,” Fleming said. “We want to see if this is a real solution or just a dog and pony show.”

They’re laying plans to occupy foreclosed homes as well as blighted commercial spaces, which they want to turn into community centers, he said.  (This is a tactic that’s worked in Boston, Mark Konzcal writes at New Deal 2.0.)

Meanwhile Occupy Chicago is regrouping – and exploring options to lease indoor space — since the city turned down the group’s request for a permanent location on Thursday, spokesperson Sugar Russell said.

They could use a space for teach-ins and trainings, as well as a place to warm up, she said.

But she notes that their current location at LaSalle and Jackson – in front of Bank of America, across the street from the Federal Reserve – is not without its significance.

That’s especially true since last week, when anonymous regulators leaked to Bloomberg that the Fed was okaying BOFA’s shift of trillions of dollars worth of derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary that’s insured by the FDIC – over the FDIC’s objections.

The FDIC’s deposit insurance fund finally turned positive in June, now amounting to just $3.9 billion.  A failure by troubled BOFA, which no one seems to be discounting, would require the FDIC to go to Congress for a bailout, possibly several times the size of TARP.

As Robert Reich argues, the situation shows the wisdom of the Glass-Steagall Act, which (until the year 2000) kept investment banks seperate from government-insured commercial banks – and underscores the need to break up “too big to fail” banks.

MSNBC senior editor James Carney calls it “outrageous” that BOFA is “obviously exploiting government backing for profit.”  Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil says it reinforces the popular impression that the Fed “puts big banks’ interests above those of ordinary taxpayers.”

More from Yves Smith, William K. Black, and most bleakly, Christopher Whalen.  Locally only ENews Park Forest seems to have noted the story.

And more attention is coming.  On Monday, National Peoples Action and the New Bottom Line Campaign will launch an online campaign to press BOFA to stop financing payday loans.

“Big banks like BOFA borrow money from the Fed at less than 1 percent interest, then lend that to payday lenders at 3 percent, who then turn around and lend money in our communities at 400 percent or more,” according to a note from NPA.

Elsewhere, the anti-corporate Adbusters magazine, which initiated the call to occupy Wall Street in September, is urging a global day of action Saturday in support of the “Robin Hood tax,” which is what they’ve dubbed the financial transaction tax.  That idea has gotten some attention in Chicago locally, with a modest proposal from Stand Up Chicago and the Chicago Political Economy Group (see previous post), but it’s a very live issue for the G20 Summit that convenes in Cannes on November 3.

There it’s backed by the governments of France and Germany as well as the European Union, which recently moved to adopt a continent-wide tax on speculation.  It’s being blocked by the Obama administration.

“Let’s send them a clear message: We want you to slow down some of that $1.3 trillion easy money that’s sloshing around the global casino each day — enough cash to fund every social program and environmental initiative in the world,” Adbusters writes.

“It’s obvious you have no idea how to get us out of this economic mess you put us in,” the magazine tells the elite. “So now we are telling you what we want: a radical transformation of casino capitalism.”

The tax would not only raise as much as $400 billion a year and offset the effects of the global crisis, which has thrown 60 million people into poverty worldwide, according to Oxfam America; it would target the spit-second computer-generated speculation that leaves the world’s economy so unstable.

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On TIF reform, Bronzeville has ideas http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/on-tif-reform-bronzeville-has-ideas/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/on-tif-reform-bronzeville-has-ideas/#comments Tue, 02 Aug 2011 21:57:47 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4639 Bronzeville residents turned out in impressive numbers for last Thursday’s public forum of the Mayor’s Task Force on TIF Reform, which was held at the Bronzeville Chicago Military Academy.

Other communities were represented, but more forums in additional communities would certainly offer the task force greater breadth of public input.  But last week’s was the only hearing that is planned.

Bronzeville is one of the city’s most heavily TIFed communities, with thirteen TIF districts covering 80 percent of the area, many created to finance CHA redevelopments – with more in the works had Mayor Daley won the 2016 Olympic games, according to Housing Bronzeville.

Sheila Carter testified on behalf of the group that TIFs have “failed local taxpayers” in their lack of transparency and accountability.  It’s been “virtuallly impossible for local residents to understand how TIF monies were being raised and spent in our area,” she said, suggesting “this confusion and lack of documentation was intentional.”

She slammed Daley’s skimming of $10 million from the King/47th TIF to help fill last year’s budget gap, saying it was done without community consultation.  “No TIF money is ‘surplus’ in Bronzeville when our development needs are so great,” she said.

And TIF projects driven by outside developers and downtown planners have ignored long-range planning by local organizations, she said.

A housing plan for Bronzeville

In referendums held in 2004 and 2008, Housing Bronzeville won overwhelming voter support for a proposal to create a Bronzeville Housing Trust Fund to develop affordable housing on 500 of the nearly 2,000 city-owned vacant lots in the area.

The group was in discussions with the city over a pilot project along those lines, possibly using TIF funds to cover some costs, but talks are on hold since the new administration entered office, Rev. Jeffrey Campbell, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, told Newstips.

Among many other Bronzeville residents who spoke, Sandra Bivens of the 51st Street Business Association proposed using neighborhood business groups which serve as delegate agencies for the city to monitor TIFs and conduct outreach to residents. “The community has yet to see a report on the number of jobs and small businesses created by TIF,” she said

Bernard Loyd, a local entrepreneur who’s getting TIF funding for a commerical development at 51st and Prairie, pointed out that Bronzeville TIFs have heavily favored residential projects and done little to create local jobs.  The program is geared toward large corporations, and approaches aimed at small businesses should be included, he said (more below).

Pilsen, Englewood, Austin

Other communities were represented.  “In Pilsen, TIF has been used as a tool to eliminate affordability and displace working-class families,” said Rosalie Mancera of the Pilsen Alliance.

“In Pilsen, TIF has not benefied the larger community; it has benefited private developers.,”  she said.  “We are subsidizing our own displacement.  This is wrong.”

Cherice Price of the Residents Association of Greater Engelwood called for training elected officials so they can promote TIF opportunities to district residents.  “People in our community may not even know there’s a TIF, and they don’t know how to go about applying,” she said.  “It’s people outside our community who are taking advantage of the opportunities.”

She called for a single advisory committee that would provide local oversight for several TIFs in Englewood.

Dwayne Truss of the South Austin Coalition challenged task force chair Carole Brown’s assertion that “TIF collections do not come at the expense of other taxing bodies.”  (In fact, as all readers of Ben Joravsky know, TIFs freeze property tax revenues going to the city, county, schools, and parks, and divert any additional revenue to a separate development fund.)

“We know that the money you give to corporate welfare comes out of our communities,” Truss said.  He called for an emphasis on jobs, pointing to a $3 million subsidy to Coca Cola to move a bottling plant from Little Village to Austin (AustinTalks recently reported the plant employs only 28 residents of the Austin area).  “How many teachers, how many park district jobs, would that money have saved?” he asked.

Community leaders representing the Albany Park Neighborhood CouncilLakeview Action Council, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Action Now in Englewood – and Melody McCorey, a young homeless mother of four small children, for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless – testified in favor of Sweet Home Chicago‘s proposal to devote $100 million in TIF funds for rehabbing foreclosed properties as affordable housing.

Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative called for shutting down the LaSalle Street TIF district, calling it an “egregious misuse of public funds.”  The city should declare a TIF surplus and return $200 million from downtown TIFs to the tax base, she said.

She called for dedicating $100 million to affordable housing and pulling CPS out of the TIF program.  “Given the economic crisis that we are in, it makes no sense that the city holds on to over $850 million in tax dollars, while our communities are struggling,” she said.

TIF funds “shouldn’t be going to make rich corporations richer” while class sizes are increasing, said Kristine Mayle of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Wendy Katten of the Raise Your Hand Coalition expressed disappointment that, despite promises of reform, the city just approved $7 million for an upscale grocery store in Greektown. CPS’s share of that money would have provided music or language programs for 50 elementary schools with 25,000 students, she said.

“Our schools are in dire need of the tax money that is being diverted from them, and our children can no longer afford to lose teachers and programs,” she said.

Katten called for sunsetting TIFs “that have served their purpose” and restricting new TIF designations to blighted areas.  She urged the task force to consider removing CPS from the TIF equation.

In the 47th ward, where she lives, “we have million-dollar homes and six TIFs diverting money from schools,” she said.  “It’s a shame.”

One size doesn’t fit all

Bernard Loyd’s Urban Juncture is developing a “culinary destination” in a large turn-of-the-century building at 51st and Prairie – four restaurants, each featuring different aspects of black cuisine, and a produce market, with 140 jobs projected.  TIF funding has been approved to cover $3 million of the project’s $9 million cost.

As a former partner at McKinsey and Co., a major management consulting firm, he’s become well-versed in the differences between big and small business.  The way the TIF program is structured and administered is fundamentally geared toward large corporations and developers, he said.

Businesses don’t operate that way, he points out.  “When GM is selling to Avis or to an individual consumer – they want to make the sale in either case – but everything is different, the sales effort, the terms – even the car will be different.”

With TIF, it’s the same application process, the same basic deal structure.  “In the vast majority of projects outside of affordable housing, a developer or a corporate entity has brought it to the city, and the city is reacting,” he said.  “That reactive posture puts the onus on the community to generate opportunities, and that’s part of the reason you have very skewed usage of TIFs.”

In Bronzeville that means five TIFs with nearly $100 million in revenues have generated only nine projects, seven of them residential, and only one (Urban Juncture’s) commercial.

The city needs to develop “a much more proactive and streamlined approach” to promote community economic development, he said.  “There’s a huge need to educate business folks and residents about what [TIF] is and how it can be used.”  (At this point, the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development “doesn’t have the resources to do a lot of outreach,” he said.)

Capital rich, capital poor

And while corporations have easy access to capital and residential developers can tap a range of public funding sources, getting private financing for a commercial project in a neighborhood like Bronzeville is a very tough climb.  There may need to be flexibility in the proportion of costs TIF will cover — and in the way deals are structured.

The typical TIF deal is back-end loaded. “For a corporation it’s a sweetener, and they have a hundred other places they can go for cash.  We’re in Bronzeville, virtually cut off from capital,” said Loyd.  “We need money up front.  But the city tells us, hey, great project, we’re going to help, and by the way, when we get a certificate of completion, then you’ll get payment.”

City development staff “really worked with us” to get a TIF note which Urban Juncture could borrow on, “but it was a whole long negotiation,” Loyd said.  And some of the funding is still being held back.  (Loyd’s group has invested $1.5 million in the project and is working with nonprofit lenders.)

“The city is used to working with huge corporations,” said Loyd.  “But a process that will work for United is almost certainly not going to work well for us.”

“We need to realign our thinking as a city to invest in neighborhoods, because it is not trickling down from downtown,” he said.  “Many of our neighborhoods are in bad, bad shape, and we have to do a lot better creating jobs for residents. We’re not capturing the opportunities.”

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Big plans for Michael Reese http://www.newstips.org/2010/12/big-plans-for-michael-reese/ Fri, 17 Dec 2010 20:32:46 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=3131 Again Mayor Daley touts a “world-class technology park” on the nearly vacant site of Michael Reese Hospital.

As Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago said here in September, “Wouldn’t it have been nice if they came up with the idea of a technology park while all those laboratory buildings were still there?”

Not just handy lab buildings, either – the most significant collection in the nation of buildings whose design was guided by Walter Gropius, one of the major architects of the 20th century.  Blair Kamin called the demolition at the hands of Daley and Toni Preckwinkle “cultural vandalism.”

Lynn Becker recently pointed out that the 2009 demolition of Reese and the 1989 demolition of Block 37 – which included the landmark 1872 McCarthy Building, John Peter Altgeld’s 1892 Unity Building, the 1921 United Artists Theatre designed by Holabird and Roche, and the 1928 art deco Hillman Building with the venerable Stop & Shop gourmet emporium – are the “twin bookends” of Daley’s reign.

There was big talk of big plans back then too, but not until 16 years later was anything built, and what we got was a “sad, ‘better-something-than-nothing'” compromise on the original visions.

And much like Reese’s labs, the Stop & Shop would have suited today’s new Loop-dwellers, and the United Artists Theatre “would have provided a much-needed smaller capacity venue for the mayor’s revived Randolph Street district,” Becker points out.

Along the way he gives a fascinating view of the arc of Daley’s career, from “Dirty Little Richie” to the conciliator of his early mayoralty — till “the nasty habits of his youth returned: the bullying, the intolerance of dissent, the constant ridiculing of any ideas other than his own, the incoherent, angry rants.”

Says Becker: “The mayor’s most willful initiatives were often his most embarrassing blunders.”  Put Reese in that category.

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Michael Reese buildings threatened http://www.newstips.org/2010/09/michael-reese-buildings-threatened/ http://www.newstips.org/2010/09/michael-reese-buildings-threatened/#comments Wed, 29 Sep 2010 19:08:30 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=2248 Despite 24-hour security, two remaining buildings at the historic Michael Reese Hospital campus are being stripped by scavengers, who have taken all copper and aluminum and much of the iron, along with radiators and air ducts, according to the Hyde Park Herald (September 22).

Now, with a cleanup fund nearly exhausted, radioactive chemicals have been discovered on the site.

Reporting on a meeting with residents of the nearby Prairie Shores development on September 16, the Herald says Ald. Toni Preckwinkle “appeared receptive to neighbors’ calls to tear down the remaining buildings,” though she “declined to state explicitly that she was considering” demolition.

Last year Preckwinkle and the city agreed to preserve the Old Main Hospital Building, a prairie-school structure built in 1907, as preservationists fought demolition of over two dozen buildings designed by and with Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.

Demolition proceeded, even as the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council endorsed the nomination of the campus to the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to the 1907 building, one Gropius building remains, the seven-story Singer Pavillion.  The rest of the site is completely bare, including lush landcapes created by world-renowned designers, now stripped away.

The city bought the campus last year for $86 million – with $32 million rebated to pay for cleanup – expecting to sell it to developers who would build an Olympic Village there (see last year’s Newstips report).  It now appears nothing is to be done with the 37-acre site.

Mayor Daley recently floated the idea of developing a biotechnology center there, but it has generated little enthusiasm.

“Wouldn’t it have been nice if they came up with the idea of a technology park while all those laboratory buildings were still there?” said Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago.

Fine questioned the city’s commitment to preserving the remaining buildings and challenged the quality of security there.  “Taxpayers are paying for security and they’re not getting it,” he said.  “It reeks to high heaven.  They’re using this to justify their own cultural vandalism.”

What are the lessons of the Reese debacle?  “First, that haste makes waste,” Fine said.  “Second, that arrogant, unilateral urban planning serves no purpose.  Third, that the people who have been elected to watch out for the City of Chicago’s financial interests have failed miserably.”

Hospitals are a major focus for preservationists at the moment, Fine said.  They’re keeping an eye on plans to redevelop the old Cook County Hospital building as medical offices.  And they’re gearing up an effort to save the “old” Prentice Women’s Hospital, designed by Bertrand Goldberg in the early 1970s; Northwestern University wants to tear it down to make room for a new research center.

Metropolis Magazine has a report on Prentice.  Blair Kamin reports it will be included in an October 9 Chicago Architecture Foundation tour of Goldberg buildings called “Architecture in the Round.”

[Correction:  Northwestern University and Bertrand Goldberg were misidentified in an earlier version.]

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