Pilsen Alliance led a rally and march on Wednesday, February 1, from the site of a planned condo development to the Providence of God Church on 18th St. where a community meeting was held to discuss the plans. 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis called for the meeting but it was moderated by the developers themselves. The development, 391 condos to be located at Peoria and 18th St., has been a source of contention since plans first leaked out. Around Christmas the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, the Pilsen Alliance and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs paraded in Santa suits and held a press conference before giving a city spokesperson two bags of coal, one each for Solis and Mayor Daley. Wednesday’s marchers shouted, “Pilsen’s not for sale!” and other chants in english and spanish before making their way to the meeting. In a statement put out before the event the Pilsen Alliance stated that, “We cannot let outsiders decide what happens in our own neighborhood.” This sentiment was echoed by 40-year resident and candidate for State Senate Oscar Torres. Talking about the University Village development just to the north Torres stated, “That’s one huge example of where there was no input from the community. No one from this neighborhood can afford to live there.” The couple of dozen marchers were received with honks and hollers of support from passing vehicles on their way to the meeting. Outside the meeting hall Pilsen resident Teresa Ceniceros voiced her opposition to the plans because “it’s not affordable housing for the people in the neighborhood. They’re gonna be displaced.”
Alderman Solis had previously called the Pilsen Alliance an “off the wall group” that didn’t “[represent] this community” but the large meeting space was standing room only with a large percentage showing reservations about the project. Residents who lived within 250 feet of the proposed development were notified of the meeting just one week beforehand. Solis began by introducing the project and some of the people involved. He was followed by Kimball Hill Homes lawyer Rolando Acosta, who introduced the rest of the development group. Acosta focused mostly on the community orientation aspects of the project in his brief remarks. He also made one of the few references to the project-designated contractor Mota Construction, which donated $22,650 to Solis’ election campaign.
#file_2#Project lawyer Rolando Acosta, who gave $3,500 to Alderman Danny Solis’ election campaign.
Acosta was followed by Patricia Saldana-Natke, owner of the architecture firm Urban Works Ltd. Natke, who donated $2,800 to Solis’ election campaign, gave a confused and stuttering presentation. She focused on how “Pilsen is in need of some green space” and touted the public community areas that would be part of the project. Those community areas would not be for the housing development only and would be open to all the neighborhood. Natke continued by describing the aesthetic of the condos as being reminiscent of the “character and beauty of the Mexican landscape” with such authentic Mexican attributes as “the use of wood with balconies and sun shades.” The audience was sent mixed messages by Natke who often mistranslated herself in spanish such as changing her english phrase “spaces for the community” to spanish with “tiendas para la communidad”, “stores for the community”. To be fair, retail stores were discussed later. The presentation consisted of a multitude of slides showing drawings and blueprints of the proposed buildings along with larger drawings of the entire neighborhood. Some, like “a view halfway down the new Peoria” showed an area that would little resemble the Pilsen of today.
Former mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros was next. Cisneros is now the head of CityView, a company that intends to “create the highest quality housing for America’s working families”. According to the company’s website one big advantage of working for them is their “knowledge of how to best work with elected officials” and others to build successful projects. As HUD Secretary Cisneros indeed had the opportunity to gain experience in such matters though his time for learning was cut short after he was found guilty of lying to the FBI about the reportedly $250,000 he paid in hush money to his ex-mistress. Cisneros briefly described his group and their partner Kimball Hill Homes. Kimball Hill, whose Chairman David Hill gave $8,500 to Solis’ campaign, is also behind the Stateway Gardens gentrification project. Cisneros talked about a few more specifics of the proposal such as parking spaces and touching on partial accessibility for elderly and disabled residents. He also mentioned that the development would bring in an estimated $15 million dollars in tax revenue. The big focus was on the “affordability” of much of the housing. Out of the 391 units, 34 were going to be priced at $150,000 with another 34 at $189,000. 14 additional units were going to be offered at $215,000. According to Cisneros, a combined annual family income of $35,000 would be sufficient to obtain and pay for a mortgage for the least expensive of those. When a community member pointed out that with a median income of $27,000 most Pilsen families would not qualify for those mortgages Cisneros responded only by stating that the “median income is rising in Chicago.” What was not discussed during the presentations nor during the question and answer period was how families with poor credit or no credit, as is case for many Pilsen residents, would be able to obtain such mortgages.
#file_3#Former Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Henry Cisneros talks about his proposed condo development.
Both Cisneros and Solis fielded questions during the Q & A that followed the presentation. Community members peppered them with questions while preselected members of various community groups that supported the project were given time to speak at regular intervals. Despite Solis’ earlier remark that there would be “a question and answer period afterwards and any question that anybody has will be responded to,” there were still many hands raised when the contentious meeting was pronounced over. Cisneros went to great lengths to portray the developers as not wanting to displace any Pilsen residents and that he had a great concern for the low-income families of the area. Despite this, when queried about the effect the condos would have on nearby property taxes and rent costs he replied, “we hadn’t thought about that.” Pilsen resident and Cook County Commissioner candidate Len Dominguez had. Talking before the march about the effect the development would have he stated that “You’re gonna see a lot of these homes torn down and just totally rebuilt as condos.”
Cisneros went to great lengths to tout the value of home ownership. For him “It’s a faith.” He described how equity in a home is the biggest economic plus that middle and lower class families can have. Put in the context of the development these assertions become puzzling. One of the agreements proposed, presented as a deal between the developers and community groups like the Resurrection Project, is to have regulations that would keep the “affordable” housing at “affordable” prices. This seems to be a pretty simple and good idea at first. Looking beyond the fact that it’s priced above the means of most residents, this has a discriminatory effect against lower middle and higher working class condo owners. If the effect of the agreement freezes prices or pegs any changes to the rate of inflation, an owner would suffer a net loss, in the amount of any value added, upon selling the residence. In a more generous picture the residents would be limited by price caps of a sort but the owners of the higher priced condos are not bound by any such restrictions. Thus a buyer who qualifies for the lower prices might get a two bedroom space for $189,000 and might resell eventually for about the same price, adjusted to whatever “affordable” is stretched to at the time of sale. A wealthier buyer of a two bedroom condo might purchase at $300,000 and resell at $400,000 at the same point in the future. Thus the person in lesser need of a return on their investment gets a big one while the person who needs a good return will not have that opportunity. Cisneros & Solis answered or danced around other questions pertaining to the difference between an apartment and a condo (“Condos have nicer amenities.”), the lack of subsidies and other issues all the while stating that the project has “affordability beyond what the City of Chicago demands.”
#file_4#Community activist Victoria Romero asks Henry Cisneros about the discrepancy between the developments “affordable” houses and the median income for Pilsen residents.
Having Henry Cisneros involved in the project is somewhat of a coup for the developers. He is a Latino with a high public profile involved in development in a largely Latino neighborhood. His efforts carry a lot of weight with politicians in the Democratic Party. His credentials as a liberal under the Clinton administration do a lot to further the assertions that his company’s projects strive to help “America’s working families.” Solis himself stated that “Bringing Henry Cisneros to the team was important.” Despite all the claims of affordability and community input the project does not seem to have a lot to offer current Pilsen residents. What is clear is that a slew of expensive condos are going to benefit the developers. With over $35,000 donated to his campaign Danny Solis certainly benefitted. But with the low end of the pricing being almost 25% above the means of the average Pilsen resident and the taxes and rents of neighboring homes and apartments about to rise the only thing that seems clear to the residents of Pilsen is that the model used for the presentation is likely the same color as the future inhabitants.
#file_5#Model of the proposed development displayed at Wednesday's meeting.