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Green-collar jobs for Logan Square

A proposed workforce initiative bringing green-collar jobs to laid-off workers and community residents caps several years of community efforts to save a Logan Square manufacturing plant as a job-providing site.

LISC Chicago is sponsoring a $250,000 grant proposal for the Green Exchange Community Workforce Initiative to provide community jobs in a green business community planned for the building that housed the the Frederick Cooper Lamp Company (2545 W. Diversy) until it closed in 2005.

The initiative grew out of efforts by the LEED Council and Logan Square Neighborhood Association to save jobs at the former manufacturing site. The LEED Council will work with businesses in the Green Exchange — a “Green Merchandise Mart” with showrooms for environmentally-friendly businesses — and LSNA will help identify former workers at Cooper Lamp and low-income community residents for jobs there.

“We see it as a wonderful initiative for the community — and for other communities to use as a template,” said Rev. Sandra Castillo of Episcopal Church of the Advent, an LSNA leader.

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Logan Square demands more police

Lakeview has nearly twice as many police officers per resident as Logan Square, according to the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

That’s despite the fact that Logan Square’s 25th district has 30 public schools — and Lakeview’s 23rd district has only nine.

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Logan Square rallies for housing

Logan Square residents will rally Saturday to ask Mayor Daley and Ald. Rey Colon (35th Ward) to reconsider the city’s rejection of a proposal for permanent supportive housing in a building that has been vacant for 18 years.

Sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, the rally takes place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 12 at the Eagle Monument in Logan Square at Milwaukee, Kedzie and Logan Bvd.

Humboldt Park Social Services and Heartland Housing have proposed developing 47 units of individual and family affordable housing in the long-vacant Sachs Building at 2800 N. Milwaukee. Residents would be people who’ve been homeless or identified as at risk of losing their homes.

The project would include first-floor retail space and HPSS’s Center for Changing Lives on the second floor, offering social services and employment assistance to residents of the building and surrounding community. It would also feature community meeting space and a green roof.

Unlike many affordable housing proposals, this one has strong support from area residents, said Lissette Castaneda, vice president of LSNA’s board and a lay leader at St. Sylvester Catholic Church.

“We have 600 signatures from people in the immediate area supporting the proposal,” she said. “It would be such a shame for the city not to take advantage of that kind of support for something like this.”

The proposal grew out of an extensive community planning process. In 2005, a Logan Sqaure quality-of-life plan identified supportive housing as a top priority in the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood, and LSNA member HPSS was chosen to spearhead a proposal.

LSNA identified another building on Milwaukee Avenue, but city planning officials pointed them to the Sachs Building, said organizer John McDermott. The city acquired the Sachs Building and issued a request for proposals last year. Last month community leaders learned that a proposal for 28 units of affordable housing from a for-profit developer had been chosen.

“We were a little shocked, with all that community support — and after the city had said we had such a great proposal,” said Castenada.

“We believe the Sachs Building is the best site in Logan Square for supportive housing,” she said. “It’s a huge building, it has room for 47 units, it has room for community space, it has room for supportive services. I don’t think there’s another building with that kind of space.” And it’s located on three bus lines and near transit, a plus for people who can’t afford cars, she said.

The city has promised to help HPSS and Heartland find another site, said Andrew Geer, executive director of Heartland Housing. “In Logan Square there aren’t many properties that fit this profile that the city owns,” he said.

One goal of the city’s plan to end homelessness is to build supportive housing in as many communities as possible, he said.


Recruiting LSC candidates

“The community here takes LSC elections very seriously — just as seriously as Hillary and Barack,” said Darryl Bell of Teamwork Englewood.

The group is one of a dozen around the city working with “minigrants” from the CPS Office of LSC Relations to recruit candidates for April LSC elections. The deadline for candidates to file is March 12.

PURE recently posted an updated guide to LSC elections (pdf).

Bell reports enthusiasm among community residents for the elections — in part motivated by concern over the consolidation of the Miles Davis Magnet and Vernon Johns Middle Schools. He said the change could create trouble by requiring students to cross gang boundaries.

Bob Vondrasek at South Austin Coalition reports a bit more difficulty in recruiting candidates. Organizers have encountered some negative attitudes toward LSCs, he said.

“Some go bad. Some are controlled by the principal,” he said. “But even with all the flaws, they’re still doggone worth having. They’re the only way you can have some kind of voice in the school.

“At it’s best, a good LSC and a good principal are the two key things. You get more parental involvement and more community involvement.”

“It’s extremely difficult motiving parents to run for LSCs when the board continues trying to close or turn-around schools” — acting unilaterally, without consulting their LSCs, said Wanda Hopkins, a parent advocate at PURE and LSC member at Lewis school who’s working with SAC on candidate recruitment.

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Going Door-to-Door for Early Learning

For over a year, a group of parents and grandparents in  low-income communities have been going door-to-door, doing surveys, outreach, and home visits, researching and promoting early learning.  They’ll discuss their work Monday as part of a symposium celebrating the accomplishments of the Chicago Early Learning and Literacy Project.

In the course of a year, members of the parents group POWER-PAC and allies surveyed 2500 families in Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park and Logan Square.  As interest in their work grew, they were asked to conduct outreach for Head Start, and began working with Illinois Action For Children on a home-visiting program for CHA families with small children.

They’re trying to identify barriers to early education in low-income communities and come up with ideas to overcome them, said POWER-PAC organizer Kelly Magnuson.

Issues range from mobility and transportation to security concerns to “a huge lack of awareness” of the importance of early learning as well as of early learning opportunities.  Some 40 percent of families they contacted did not know of any resources for pre-school children in their community, Magnuson said.

For those who might wish to enroll their system, a vastly complicated preschool system is difficult to navigate, she said.

Despite the state’s Preschool For All program, an estimated 15,000 low-income children in low-income Chicago communities aren’t enrolled in preschool, Catalyst reported in September.  Some preschool sites have long waiting lists; others have trouble fillling their slots.  Early education has been shown to have a major impact on children’s success in school and beyond.

Maryann Plummer is an Englewood grandmother and POWER-PAC member who has gone door-to-door doing surveys and home visits.  Many young mothers she’s encountered “have too many problems of their own,” she said.

“They’ve got problems finding a place to stay or putting food on the table, finding a job or staying off drugs,” she said.  “We heard a lot of [young parents say they’re] not worried about early learning — their kids will go to school when they’re five — they’re worried about how to pay rent.”

In home visits she brings learning games and books and explains the importance of early education.

“You have to get through to the parents first and let them see the importance,” she said.  She tells them: “You want to give your child the opportunity you didn’t have.  You want to see the best for your child.

“And they’re buying it.”

Magnuson, an organizer with Community Organizing and Family Issues, said having  community members doing surveys and outreach is crucial to getting through to new parents and caretaking grandparents.

Leaders from POWER-PAC will present results and recommendations from their work (one idea: add funding for transportation to the state’s Preschool For All program) at Monday’s symposium on the Chicago Early Learning and Literacy Program, an 18-month effort administered by Illinois Action For Children to bring early education opportunities to at-risk children.  Other workshops will discuss collaborations with city agencies and schools as well as parks, libraries and clinics which incorporated early literacy activities into their programs.

Also on display will be “Big City, Little Learners,” an exhibit documenting the project’s effort to bring state-of-the-art teaching methods to 11 schools and child care centers. Teachers and young students explored the city and used activities like mailing a letter, riding a bus, or going to a candy store to develop topics for investigation.

The symposium takes place Monday, December 17, 3 to 7 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph.  Info at 773-564-8801

Referenda Give Voters a Voice on Schools, Development, Jobs

Voters in precincts across Chicago will consider referenda on a range of local issues in the March 21 general primary.

[Updated3-22-06: Outcomes have been noted based on unofficial results of the Chicago Board of Elections.]

22nd Ward: High School Boundaries

A referendum calling on CPS to “draw attendance boundaries for Little Village High School to only allow students from the surrounding community to attend” is being opposed by Little Village Community Development Corp., the group which helped organize the hunger strike in 2000 which led to the creation of the new high school.

“This is not only divisive, it is unconstitutional,” said Jesus Garcia, executive director of LVCDC.

State Senator Martin Sandoval initiated the referendum complaining that the high school draws students from North Lawndale while some in Little Village are excluded.

In fact the students from North Lawndale live closer to the high school than students in the east portion of Little Village, said Jaime de Leon of LVDCC. He said the referendum has “racist implications” and is “based on the notion that African American students from North Lawndale are taking slots that should go to [Latino] kids from Little Village.”

He added that the school has a limited capacity and couldn’t accommodate all of Little Village’s high school students “The referendum would take us back to square one in terms of overcrowding,” he said.

At a recent meeting, parents of students at the high school “want to protect the way the school is set up,” de Leon said. “They don’t want their kids to go to an overcrowded school and they like the fact that their kids go to a school with more than one race.”

Leaders of the high school as well as nonprofit partners including Lawndale Christian Development Corporation and Instituto del Progreso Latino also oppose the referendum and defend the school’s diversity.

“We urge our elected officials to focus their efforts on improving the other schools in the area, instead of attacking our school,” said Rito Martinez, principal of the Social Justice School, one of four small schools at the high school.

[Measure approved by 54.8 percent of voters]

For more: Jaime de Leon, Little Village Community Development Corp., 773-447-0776

25th Ward: Downzoning

In 13 Pilsen precincts in the 25th Ward, Pilsen Alliance has a referendum asking voters whether Alderman Danny Solis should downzone the neighborhood — in general limiting new residential construction to single family homes — in order “to slow down gentrification” and “preserve the historic designation of Pilsen.”

Last month Pilsen was designated a state historic district, making homeowners eligible for an eight-year property tax freeze — if they invest 25 percent of their building’s assessed value into rehab.

The designation “could be a way to preserve buildings, but it could lead to speculation” and higher property taxes for residents, most of whom are low-income and would have difficulty qualifying for a tax freeze, said Alejandra Ibanez of Pilsen Alliance. “The benefits [of the designation] don’t outweigh the challenges and limitations for people with lower incomes,” she said.

“If [Solis] wants historic preservation, he’s going to have to put a moratorium on teardowns and he’s going to have to downzone” to head off “speculators [who] are buying bungalows and two-flats, demolishing them and building three- and four-story condos,” Ibanez said.

She is concerned about “misinformation” including claims that downzoning would lower property values. “That couldn’t be more wrong,” she said.

“Pilsen is already so hot it’s on fire,” said Ibanez. She said property taxes there doubled between 2000 and 2004.

In the last two years the group has lost campaigns to block two large condominium projects, and residents were discouraged after being “beat up and shut down” by aldermen and planning commissioners when they tried to testify against the projects, Ibanez said.

Pilsen Alliance recently completed a survey of all Pilsen’s lots, noting zoning, usage, ownership and taxes, Ibanez said. A report on their findings and policy recommendations is forthcoming, she said.

[Measure approved by 75.5 percent of voters]

For more: Alejandra Ibanez, 312-243-5440

35th Ward: Development and Jobs

Alderman Rey Colon is supporting three referenda in the 35th Ward, and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association is supporting two of them and opposing one.

LSNA supports referenda backing an inclusionary zoning ordinance (establishing affordable housing setasides in larger new developments and rehabs) and the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance requiring new retail establishments larger than 75,000 square feet to pay a living wage and provide health benefits.

The inclusionary zoning measure “is a great tool for communities like Logan Square where the pool of rental and homeownership options for working families is shrinking as prices rise,” said Nancy Aardema of LSNA. The living wage ordinance has roots in an LSNA campaign in the late 1990s that won a community benefits agreement with a new Costco at Clybourne and Diversy providing job training, living wage jobs, and health insurance.

A third referendum calls on the alderman to “support commercial and residential redevelopment of the Fullerton/Milwaukee/Armitage TIF.” It gives the Alderman a “blank check,” said Aardema, and undercuts against community involvement in planning, which LSNA supports.

She points out that LSNA is supporting two development proposals in the TIF area that maintain local businesses, preserve existing buildings and remain in character with the rest of the block.

[Inclusionary zoning referendum passed with 76.7 percent of vote; Big Box Living Wage referendum passed with 83.5 percent; TIF referendum defeated with 56.3 percent of voters opposed.]

For more: Nancy Aardema, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, 773-384-4370

48th Ward – Senn High School

A referendum in the 48th ward calls on the Chicago Board of Education to “establish a formal process to receive community input regarding removal of the Rickover military academy at Senn High School.”

The decision to establish the military academy of Senn was an example of “decision makers holding meetings to say they’ve gotten community input when the decision has already been made,” said Christopher Persons of Citizens for Inclusive Government, a group formed to sponsor the referendum.

“At every opportunity for community input” on the Rickover academy “the input was strongly in opposition — from teachers, students, and the community — and it went ahead anyway,” Persons said. He said school and elected officials deferred to Ald. Mary Ann Smith on the decision.

Senn’s LSC opposed installing the academy unanimously, Persons said — and when Smith established her own “Senn Tomorrow” committee, that group also overwhelmingly opposed the academy. Smith then dissolved the committee, he said.

The group’s voter canvas has found support for the referendum among “a strong majority of residents who are in favor of removing the academy” — and also among supporters of the academy “who agree there ought to be a thorough and honest process,” he said.

“They’ll deny it and deny it, but [the academy] is a recruitment scheme” — especially in a school with many lower-income students, Persons said. With rising test scores and a student body speaking 56 languages, Senn should consider establishing a peace academy, an international studies program, or a language academy, he said.

[Referendum approved by 69.7 percent of voters.]

For more: Christopher Persons, Citizens for Inclusive Government, 773-370-3055

49th Ward – Community Benefits

Five Rogers Park precincts will vote on whether employers who receive public funds should be required to hire locally, pay a living wage, and respect the right to organize. The referendum was placed on the ballot by the Rogers Park Community Action Network, which is seeking jobs commitments at the Howard CTA reconstruction project as well as two local TIF districts.

[Measure approved by 87.9 percent of voters]

For more: Fran Tobin, Rogers Park Community Action Network, 773-973-7888

Wards 24, 28, 29, and 37 – Jobs for Ex-Offenders

A referendum on the ballot in four wards with the highest number of people returning from prison seeks to lift employment barriers for nonviolent ex-offenders for public jobs. It backs legislation removing criminal background questions on state, county and municipal job applications.

The four wards cover Austin, North Lawndale, and East Garfield Park, the three community areas with the highest concentration of returning ex-offenders, according to a recent Urban Institute report.

According to the report, over half of the over 20,000 ex-offenders who return to Chicago each year end up in one of seven neighborhoods.

“We believe that if the public sector agrees to help more people [with criminal backgrounds] secure jobs, the private sector will follow,” said La Shawn Ford, a candidate for state representative in the 8th district who organized the referendum drive.

Ford points out that the federal government does not ask job applicants about their criminal background, and several states limit questions on criminal background on their job applications.

“I truly believe that if individuals are able to gain employment, they will be better citizens and better parents,” he said.

Ford said that volunteers he organized collected 4,000 signatures for the referendum in two weekends. “That shows how pressing the issue is — for ex-offenders and for society.”

[Passed overwhelmingly in all three wards; combined totals: 12,618 yes, 1,015 no]

For more: La Shawn Ford, 773-378-5902

Community Vaudeville Opens 5th Season

Vaudeville Underground opens its fifth season of bringing professional dance, theater, poetry and performance art to Logan Square on Thursday and Friday, July 7 and 8.

The season runs through December, with shows on the first Thursday and Friday of each month in the Glade Memorial Hall of Nazareth United Church, 2640 W. Altgeld.

Producer Christopher Ellis describes it as a modern variety show structured like the old vaudeville circuit productions, with an hour and a half broken into nine ten-minute acts.

Chicago has hundreds of theater companies all competing for the same theater-going audience, he said, and Vaudeville Underground is an effort to expose more people to professional theater. The vaudeville format is comfortable for newcomers, Ellis said. “If people feel like one piece is too heavy, they know something lighter is coming right afterward,” he said.

The July show features the Irreverance Dance Theater, Logan Square poet Sheila Donahue and singer/songwriter James Scalfani, former Chicago performance artist Neil Ellis Orts, along with Zetta the Clown and magician Benjamin Barnes.

Young people from the youth arts program of AurorArts Alliance, sponsor of Vaudeville Underground, do all the backstage crew work — and they will contribute performances for the September and December shows.

The alliance works with Logan Square youth, generally from 5th to 8th grade, in afterschool programs at several schools and in Saturday classes, teaching music, theater, dance, photography and filmmaking.

Communities Address Zoning Remap

The City Council recently moved the start date of the new zoning code back from November 1 to August 1, and aldermen are faced with remapping their wards to include new classifications and districts. In some cases community groups are helping in the process.

The Metropolitan Planning Council has provided training and hand-held computers to groups in Lawndale and other communities to “identify zoning assets and challenges” — places where new designations might help foster community-oriented development, said Pete Skosey. Working with MPC, the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago has identified a section of Grand Avenue which could serve as a commercial buffer between residential sections to the north and a planned manufacturing district to the south.

Aside from MPC’s efforts, the Pilsen Alliance recently won overwhelming support for a referendum in the 25th ward calling for wider notification and open community meetings on any zoning variances. The group is now ramping up a Pilsen Community Zoning Board.

Having supported a similar referendum in the 35th ward, new Alderman Rey Colon is now holding precinct meetings — and the 35th Ward Community Action Council is conducting a door-to-door canvas — to forge a community process for mapping out development goals.

Alderman Tom Tunney (44th Ward) has 20 community groups in his Community Development Council working on a zoning remap; one member is Nate Hutchinson from Lakeview Action Coalition’s affordable housing committee. Hutchinson is also active with groups promoting less auto-centered development. Higher density facilitates affordability as well as pedestrian activity and public transit, he argues, but public education on the issue is needed.

Developers who get zoning variances receive a significant public benefit, and it would be reasonable to expect some return — like affordable housing set-asides, says John McDermott of Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

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