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Housing, Drug Prevention Lead Brighton Park Agenda

Protecting homeowners from gentrification and improving services to area residents, especially youth, are on the agenda at Brighton Park Neighborhood Council’s community meeting 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, January 17 at Columbia Explorer’s Academy, 4520 S. Kedzie Ave.

The group plans to ask County Assessor Jim Houlihan to extend a 7 percent cap on increases in taxable value on local homeowners’ properties for another year. They also want to discuss affordable housing and drug and crime prevention with Houlihan, state Sen. Tony Munoz, state Rep. Susana Mendoza, Ald. Ed Burke, Ninth District police commander Eugene Roy and other local officials.

On affordable housing, Council leaders say that within the past two years, heating costs and electric bills have nearly tripled, on the heels of 2003 property tax assessment increases of from 30 to 50 percent in Brighton Park, members of the group say. New development in the area has residents concerned about the changing character of the community.

“I have heard the town homes will sell for as much as $329,000! I don’t know who can afford that. Obviously the developers don’t plan to sell to people in the neighborhood,” says community resident Eddie Wilkins.

Unveiling a youth drug abuse prevention program

The Council will also unveil a new $500,000 drug prevention program funded by the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). The need for the program was demonstrated by a survey that found a jump in drugs, alcohol, or tobacco use among area ninth graders.

Last year a survey of 171 youth in seventh, eighth, and ninth grade found that while 40 percent of students in the two lower grades reported using one or more of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, that number climbed to 68 percent among the ninth graders in the survey, said Amanda McMillen, drug prevention coordinator for the Council’s partner organization SGA Youth and Family Services.

McMillen’s agency, which already provides services in the Brighton Park community, is the recipient of the drug prevention grant. Although the federal government funded 26 such programs across the state, this is the only one funded in Chicago. The program is expected to last for five years. At Tuesday’s meeting, local officials will be asked for their support of drug prevention efforts such as youth and parent education and providing youth with alternative activities.

Latinos Demand More School Support Staff

Community groups in predominantly Latino areas on the Northwest and Southwest Sides say their schools need more nurses, social workers, and psychologists, in part to prevent inappropriate assignments of English-learning students to special education.

Blocks Together and Brighton Park Neighborhood Council are calling on CPS to adjust the formula for allocating school support staff to factor in English-learning student populations and neighborhood crime rates.

Both groups have met with CPS chief Arne Duncan on the issue, and three hundred Blocks Together members attended a meeting with CPS President Michael Scott on November 12, where he agreed to look into the allocation formula. Follow-up meetings with Duncan and Scott are scheduled for January.

Support staff in area schools are overburdened, and kids who need help have limited access to them, BT member Judy Diaz said at the meeting with Scott. She added that many Latino parents feel children with language issues are often misdiagnosed.

Experts agree: “Children who are struggling with language acquisition do get inappropriately referred to special education,” said Josie Yanguas of the Illinois Resource Center. The Center offers training to educators to help them distinguish language acquisition difficulties from learning disabilities.

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