Mild Sauce

Op/Ed • Chris Kennedy Is Right About Chicago’s “Strategic Gentrification Plan”

Chicago politics is no place to pull a punch and Governor hopeful Chris Kennedy sent a shot directly to the gut of mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday. Speaking during a news conference about gun violence in North Lawndale, Kennedy stated his belief in Emanuel’s administration operating what he referred to as a “strategic gentrification plan” that has aimed to make the city “whiter” since he took office. While it can easily be seen as an early strike in the coming campaign season, Kennedy’s words are far from conspiracy theory.

Expanding on his initial premise, Kennedy said, “I believe that black people are being pushed out of Chicago intentionally by a strategy that involves disinvestment in communities, being implemented by the city administration and I believe Rahm Emanuel is the head of the city administration and therefore needs to be held responsible for those outcomes. That’s what I think.”

It’s a real problem, one that we touched on briefly during our interview with housing rights activist Andy Thayer last Fall. Looking at numbers across the city and spanning several decades, it’s difficult not to notice certain patterns that have existed since Chicago made a concerted effort in the 90s to get families, most often upper-class whites, to migrate back to the city from the surrounding halo of suburbs following the ‘White Flight’ of the 60s, 70s and 80s. That mass migration outward left the city with a fraction of its former population and a metropolis centered on industry and manufacturing that would be nearly unrecognizable to today’s Chicagoan.

The term ‘White Flight’ stems from the many caucasian families that made up swaths of the city’s south and west side neighborhoods began streaming to the suburbs, many victims of predatory real estate agents who then turned around and sold the houses to African-American families at unfair interest rates before soon foreclosing. This practice, done over and over at the expense of minority communities across the city is one of the main catalysts for the blocks of empty lots, commercial buildings and homes that make up some of what are now considered the city’s “worst” areas. With so much housing stock and open land available in these areas, it has long been a theory of community leaders that the destruction of affordable housing without replacement, along with the lack of investment into beleaguered neighborhoods is an attempt to drive the poor, working class and often minority citizens outside of city borders.

“My belief is they’re being pushed out. This is involuntary. That we’re cutting off funding for schools, cutting off funding for police, allowing people to be forced to live in food deserts, closing hospitals, closing access to mental health facilities. What choice do people have but to move, to leave?” Kennedy said. “And I think that’s part of a strategic gentrification plan being implemented by the city of Chicago to push people of color out of the city. The city is becoming smaller and as it becomes smaller, it’s become whiter.”

For anyone who has traveled beyond the recommended north enclaves of the city, or the newly-chic west loop, the contrasts Chicago are readily obvious. In the decades the preceded the city’s current housing boom, the city known as the country’s most segregated was decidedly less-so. The advent of housing projects, while problematic for many reasons, allowed lower-income residents opportunity to live in assorted portions of the city. Today, in the wake of demolition of the majority of housing projects, the former residents and fellow citizens in the working class have been relegated to the south and west, which have been systemically turned into food deserts increasingly devoid of opportunity or jobs.

In the wake of the city deciding to remove over 80% of its affordable housing on the north side since 2000, there has been little, if any, re-investment into CHA sites that could serve the very residents they put on the streets with a voucher. That has resulted in increased homeless populations, like those in Uptown and the South Loop that the city escorted out with police and city leaders last year to make room for high rises and city development. These days? Those that once lived in affordable housing, who migrated to a forest or under a bridge are spending their winters in tents along I-94. Kennedy hit it on the head when he said as the city gets smaller, it gets whiter. One look at the immediate development that descended upon the former site of Cabrini-Green off of Halsted and Divison is an immediate example.

Chicago is a city of many problems, but its one that has suffered for too long at the hands of those who decide the mechanics in back room deals that do little to benefit the full spectrum of Chicagoans. Rahm Emanuel has done much to cozy up to hegemonic 1% of the city while simultaneously empowering one of the most corrupt police organizations in the country. With Governor Bruce Rauner above him, he’s benefitted from a certain amount of what’s come to be called the ‘George Bush Effect’ (the idea that Bush has enjoyed more popularity since Donald Trump took office). While that may be true, unless he and his cronies begin focusing on the sides of the city not gilded in gold and glass, Kennedy may be in line for a new job. Regardless of who does though, this is an important point that should be repeatedly underlined through the upcoming campaign season.