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Tax credit backlog threatens Sutherland

Tenants at the historic Sutherland Apartments are continuing efforts to maintain their building’s affordability, despite long waits for federal housing tax credits administered by the city, which have discouraged several affordable housing groups.

“We want to keep it affordable and have a stake in ownership of the building as a tenant association,” said James Long, president of the Sutherland Apartments Tenants Association.

The building, located at 47th and Drexel, is home to the historic Sutherland Ballroom, which hosted jazz greats from the 1940s into the 1970s. A renovation of the ballroom is being completed, Long said.

The building itself was renovated in the late 1980s and reopened in 1990 with low-income housing tax credits guaranteeing 15 years of affordability. The tax credits expired in 2005 and the owner, Heartland Housing, sought new tax credits from the city to maintain the building’s affordability.

“We were told the city was not going to have enough tax credits” and the proposal would have to wait, perhaps several years, said Andrew Geer of Heartland.

Lack of funding — and particularly lack of clarity on funding timelines — is an issue throughout the affordable housing industry, he said.

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Youth to lobby for summer jobs

With violence surging on Chicago streets, a hundred young people from the South Side are travelling to Springfield this week to press for funding for summer jobs for youth.

Youth unemployment has also surged — 90 percent of Chicago black males aged 16 to 19 are unemployed, according to Jack Wuest of the Alternative Schools Network — reaching “historically unprecedented” levels since federal funding for youth employment was eliminated in 2000, according to a study just released by ASN.

On Wednesday, participants in youth leadership development programs at the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and area high schools will lobby for funding for the Community Youth Employment Act. HR 4553 was approved last week but still requires an appropriation for funding. It aims at creating 2500 jobs for youth in low-income communities this summer, and more in the future.

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Strengthening LSCs

The Kenwood Oakland Community Organization is hosting a legislative hearing on strengthening LSCs this Saturday, April 12 starting at 11:15 a.m. at Kennicott Park, 4434 S. Lake Park.

KOCO and allies successfully pushed for passage of a resolution last year which declared that the Illinois House of Representatives “support[s] the empowerment of Local School Councils as local, publicly-elected decision-making bodies” and authorized subject matter hearings on the needs of LSCs.

LSC members from across the city will testify Saturday about why LSCs are needed, how they work in particular schools, and how they could be better supported.

LSCs bring “community wisdom” — a grassroots perspective that is often lacking from CPS decision-making, said Jitu Brown, KOCO’s education organizer and a member of the Dyett High School LSC.

Brown cites the disastrous transfer of students from Englewood High to other South Side schools, disregarding community concerns about security and gang issues. “Dyett exploded,” he recalls. “Hyde Park exploded. Who do you hold accountable for that?

“The school district doesn’t understand community dynamics,” Brown said.

He also points to the closing of successful neighborhood schools which “should serve as models” for a system with a huge dropout rate.

More fundamentally, “As people of color we have to be sure there’s public accountability because there’s a demonstrated record of our not receiving the resources or the quality of services that we’re supposed to get, because of our color,” Brown said. “CPS has a disastrous record in terms of equity in distribution of resources.”

Some schools have a laptop for each student, others one or two computers in each classroom, he said. “Why is it OK that Harper High has to use discretionary funds to hire teachers and security guards, and doesn’t have money for a band or debate team or school newspaper, and Walter Payton College Prep is a world-class facility? Why is that acceptable?”

When Brown joined the Dyett LSC is 2003, “there were seven books in its library,” he said. CPS had made a high school of a former middle school “without giving it the resources to be a high school.” The LSC there has worked to get resources and “make the school parent and community friendly,” he said. Brown contributes a life skills program for male students that is successful and growing; next week a group is visiting UIC.

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Youth to Rally for Summer Jobs

The number of jobs for youth provided by the city’s summer jobs program has dropped from 40,000 in 1984 to under 11,000 last year, according to research by the youth group of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

Young people from KOCO will join teenagers from across the city for a Citywide Youth Employment Rally on Wednesday, August 9 at 6 p.m. at Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone.

They’re pushing for state legislation to increase funding for summer jobs and calling on the Illinois Department of Human Services to allocate more from its budget for youth employment.

Last year a youth-led organizing drive won 1,000 additional summer jobs from the city, and a citywide rally attracted nearly 500 teenagers, said Jonathan Projansky of KOCO.

Lack of positive opportunities increases a range of risks for young people, from drugs and gang activity to pregnancy, he said.

“Young people have the drive and ability to do serious things and to be taken seriously,” he said. “They’re looking for responsibility.”

“When I was young just about anyone who wanted a Mayor Daley Summer Job could get one,” he said, adding that low-income and at-risk youth are no longer prioritized for city-sponsored summer jobs.

“Often when teenagers are just doing their normal summer routine, the perception on the part of adults and particularly police is that they’re doing something wrong,” said Bryan Echols of the Woodlawn-based Metropolitan Area Group for Igniting Civilization. “It often leads to interactions with police that are not positive” and sometimes “creates very dangerous situations” both with police and with other youth.

MAGIC was founded by Social Science Administration students at the University of Chicago, including several Woodlawn natives, to provide programming for youth and organize residents there. This summer the group is employing 20 Woodlawn teenagers on a six-week mural project through the city’s After School Matters program, and several young organizers are working in MAGIC’s office.

“But there are thousands we can’t help, just in our neighborhood alone,” Echols said.

KOCO estimates there are 70,000 to 80,000 Chicago youth ages 14 to 17 who could benefit from summer employment.

The August 9 rally will feature young people speaking on what employment – or the lack of it – means for their summer, along with performances by local talent ranging from gospel to hip-hop.

Young people from across the city will attend, with participating organizations including Uptown-based Alternatives, Organization of the North East, Albany Park Neighborhood Association, Blocks Together, Bethel New Life, the Hip Hop Church, the Chinese American Service League, the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corp, Southwest Youth Collaborative, and the far-south group Kids Off the Block.

School Closing Moratorium Backed

Humboldt Park parents will meet Tuesday, May 23, as part of a citywide drive to ask aldermen to support a proposed ordinance for a moratorium on school closings.

Local Aldermen Billy Ocasio (27) and Walter Burnett Jr. (28) both serve on the City Council’s education committee. Advocates hope to win the committee’s approval this week for an ordinance proposed by Ald. Michael Chandler (24) calling for a moratorium on school closings until the impact on affected students can be studied.

The May 23 meeting is sponsored by Blocks Together, a West Humboldt Park community group in an area where two schools have been closed in the past two years. According to Blocks Together, CPS’s school closings are “displacing students and families of color” and “taking away local control from parents.”

“A lot of receiving schools have the same issues” as the schools that are being closed, said Blocks Together organizer Jennifer Dillon, and shifting students add stresses, including more fights and larger class sizes.

Two-thirds of students displaced by school closings have ended up at schools on academic probation, according to a recent analysis by Catalyst; only a fifth landed at higher-performing or newly-opened schools.

About half of the neighborhood schools closed and reopened since 2002 are no longer required to accept neighborhood students, according to Catalyst.

Local parents will speak at the meeting along with students from Blocks Together’s youth council and representatives of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Teachers for Social Justice. The meeting is part of a citywide effort led by the labor-community coalition Chicagoans United for Education.

KOCO has opposed school closings in the gentrifying Mid-South area, saying they shift resources away from local low-income students. The group has complained about students being repeatedly displaced by closings. This year CPS agreed not to close schools which have received students from other closed schools in the past two years.

KOCO has launched a study of the impact of school closings and is working with LSCs, parents and community leaders to develop a community education plan, said Shannon Bennett.

“The sad part is there is no input from communities or students who are being affected,” said Rev. Robin Hood, an organizer for ACORN, which is mobilizing thousands of members to call their aldermen to support Chandler’s ordinance this week. ACORN members in North Lawndale and Englewood have seen a number of school closings.

“The Englewood [High School] community has been going to them for 20 years, saying, ‘We need books,’” Hood said. “Now they say the school’s is no good and they’re closing it. There’s no accountability.”

Hood said part of the reason communities are excluded from planning is that the CPS is concerned with more than just improving schools. “They’re trying to cut the union and privatize the schools,” he said.

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