Using Transit-Oriented Development to Promote Economic and Racial Justice

An art display at the symposium. Photo: Lynda Lopez
An art display at the symposium. Photo: Lynda Lopez

Transit-oriented development in Chicago often inspires conversations about equity, not because of its current iteration, but because its potential. In our city TOD has become nearly synonymous with upscale development. But when new housing is built near transit, it should create opportunities for residents of various income levels, not just affluent people. Instead, Chicago’s TOD boom has often been associated with rising rents and the displacement of lower-income and working-class people of color, especially along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor in gentrifying Logan Square and Wicker Park. For TOD to be equitable, the planning must address issues of economic and racial justice.

Elevated Chicago is an organization seeking to inspire intersectional conversations about TOD. Launched in 2017, Elevated Chicago is a collaborative comprised of 17 partners, including business, governmental, and nonprofit organizations with a goal of addressing displacement though equitable TOD. It aims to concentrate investments within its “eHubs,” half-mile radius circles around seven CTA stations, located in four different parts fo town. The stations include three stops on the Green Line’s South Side branch, two stops on the Green and Blue Lines on the West Side, The California Pink Line station and the Logan Square Blue Line stop.

An elevated panel including Joanna Trotter, Nootan Bharani, Justin Garrett Moore, Christian Diaz, and Shandra Richardson. Photo: Lynda Lopez
An elevated panel including Joanna Trotter, Nootan Bharani, Justin Garrett Moore, Christian Diaz, and Shandra Richardson. Photo: Lynda Lopez

This past Thursday, over 200 representatives of Elevated partner groups and other residents attended the Elevated Chicago Symposium, a discussion of equitable TOD (eTOD)-related work, challenges, and solutions. The summit was also an opportunity for community partners in each eHub to give presentations on their initiatives and the issues they’ve encountered.

Jennie Fronczak from LUCHA and Aaron Johnson from Center for Changing Lives presented on their work around the Logan Square Blue Line eHub. A major success they touted was securing a community benefits agreement with Blue Star Properties for its future hotel and restaurant at the old Grace’s Furniture Building, next door to one of the Logan Square station entrances. Under the CBA, 75 percent of jobs will be full-time and pay $17 an hour, and will go to local residents. Every six months, the developer has to report back to community groups to make sure the CBA is being honored.

Aaron Johnson and Jennie Fronczak. Photo: Lynda Lopez
Aaron Johnson and Jennie Fronczak. Photo: Lynda Lopez

Adrienne Lange from Latinos Progresando and Omar Magana of OPEN Center for the Arts gave a presentation on the California Pink Line station eHub. One of the successes Lange highlighted was the future conversion of an old library in Little Village into an immigrant resource and community space. In addition to that, the Marshall Square Resource Network organized a walkability study last year to collect data on the conditions for pedestrians in Little Village. Magana also discussed how art is being used to help create community.

Kevin Sutton of the Foundation for Homan Square and Mike Tomas of the Garfield Community Council gave a presentation on the Kedzie Corridor eHub. One of the challenges Tomas mentioned was the declining African-American population around the Kedzie Green Line stop, which touches on Elevated Chicago’s goal of addressing displacement triggered by gentrification, and also displacement caused by disinvestment. Citywide, Chicago’s Black population has been falling, a phenomenon some have labeled a reverse Great Migration.

Tomas discussed his experiences attending housing court to help residents dealing with foreclosures or evictions, which also had the goal of preventing future building demolitions in the neighborhood. There are also efforts to help community members grow their own food, as there are no grocery stores in the area near the station. One major success Tomas mentioned was the CBA reached with The Hatchery, a new business incubator next to the Kedzie Green Line stop. The CBA includes an agreement to ensure residents can access the kitchen space and jobs within the incubator.

The last presenters were Ghian Foreman of the Washington Park Development Group and Leslé Honoré of the K.L.E.O. Community Family Life Center. Foreman talked about the challenges of working around three CTA train stations (the 51st, Garfield, and 63rd Green Line stops) because of the different dynamics of the area surrounding each station. “It’s giving us an opportunity to plan for the future,” Foreman said.

A series of other presenters throughout the day discussed eTOD from the lenses of “people, places, and process,” which are the central workplan themes of Elevated Chicago. The event ended with the opening reception for “Undesign the Redline,” an interactive exhibit at the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago that discusses the history of redlining and other forms of of housing discrimination.

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  • Jeremy

    There has been a lot of talk during the mayoral election about affordable housing, but I never hear anyone mention the effect of short term rentals (like AirBNB) on rent prices. I wonder if the city has an estimate of how many units are not available for long term leasing because they are exclusively available for short term rentals.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Thanks for mentioning the exhibition at the Fed’s money museum, that’s going on my to-do list. I went to the St. Louis branch’s money museum a few years ago and was completely awed, so I imagine Chicago’s is equally up to the challenge of providing layman-friendly interpretative elements that can make the more complex economics digestible (not that anyone needs an econ degree to understand redlining, of course).

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Do you need a certain permit for that? Otherwise it would seems like it would be hard to tell.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Airbnb certainly is willing to spend big bucks to fight having to tell: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/03/nyregion/nyc-airbnb-rentals.html

  • Eric

    How do you guarantee jobs to local residents without discrimination against where the applicant lives?

  • What do you mean?

  • The exhibit even used one of my maps that shows how much of Chicago currently bans affordable housing (by banning multi-family housing and apartments).

  • You don’t need a permit, but you do have to register your short term rental unit.

  • Eric

    Under the CBA, 75 percent of jobs will be full-time and pay $17 an hour, and will go to local residents.

    So, someone from Englewood shows up to apply for this job in Logan Square and they say, “Sorry, you don’t live in the right neighborhood. Get lost.”

    That doesn’t seem right.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Just hope the Loop and South Loop don’t decide to follow suit.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Have you checked it out yet? The Fed Money Museum website didn’t have any information on the exhibit at all, although I did receive a quick and courteous email reply that this is indeed up and running.

  • rohmen

    It doesn’t seem right for several reasons, but it may not be illegal. Geographic location isn’t a protected class, so you’d have to show an employer hiring only from the local community is either undertaken to accomplish a discriminatory intent, or that even if not intentional, the action has a disparate impact on a protected classification in any event.

    The CBA likely passes “legally” in this case given the above, but I still don’t think these type of moves are always smart in the long run. Given the changing demographics of Logan Square, the demographic this was put in place to help has in many instances already been pushed out of the local area (depending how large “local” is defined). This CBA may actually hurt what I imagine was the overall cause driving it given the new demographic makeup of the area.

  • If I understand it accurately, the CBA in Logan is an innovative approach that gives the local community orgs whose constituencies are longtime latinx residents a degree of oversight—and there part of that is facilitating a direct pipeline for people accessing services through the Center For Changing Lives’ workforce development program.

  • rohmen

    Which all sounds interesting, and I commend them for trying an innovative approach. My concern I guess is regarding the over-all equity of it. Logan Square’s demographics are currently something like 46% White, 44% Latinx, 6% African-American, and 4% or so Asian/Other races. These are high paying jobs for that industry. Seemingly, the CBA requires “equitable” hiring. How is that measured? How does that compare to the typical work force of a higher-end hotel in Chicago where a CBA isn’t in place?

    My gut reaction is that while this will be a plus for people in the LS Latinx population serviced by those organizations, this may not be “equitable” in terms of how people would typically view “equitable hiring” given that LS has lower numbers of African-American present there then in some other neighboring areas. That community is in solid need of well-paying service industry jobs as well, even if they technically live outside of the LS boundary but close by.

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