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Duo Explores Uptown's Affordable Housing Debate With Book Project

By Adeshina Emmanuel | January 8, 2014 9:57am
 Anya Ravitz (l) and Ilana Cheyfitz (r).
Anya Ravitz (l) and Ilana Cheyfitz (r).
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Uptown Stories

UPTOWN — Fascinated by both the architecture and the social tension in Uptown, two North Side women spent the last year gathering stories and photos from the neighborhood. Now, they are looking to collect their stories in a book tentatively titled "On the Margins."

Anya Ravitz, a 27-year-old writer, and photographer Ilana Cheyfitz started their storytelling project focused on Uptown more than a year ago. In that time, they've organized poetry workshops and open mics featuring low-income housing tenants and collected the North Side residents' recollections as part of the Uptown Stories project.

Cheyfitz and Ravitz want to weave the words and portraits of people across the neighborhood together — from condo dwellers to folks who reside in housing of last resort — and capture the friction between gentrification and affordable housing in one of Chicago's most racially and economically diverse neighborhoods.

 Ilana Cheyfitz (l) and Anya Ravitz (r) at the Bezazian Library in Uptown, where they organized a Sept. 19 poetry slam featuring low-income housing residents.
Ilana Cheyfitz (l) and Anya Ravitz (r) at the Bezazian Library in Uptown, where they organized a Sept. 19 poetry slam featuring low-income housing residents.
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Uptown Stories

They are seeking Uptowners willing to share thoughts about their experiences, their community and their housing.

Ravitz, a Los Angeles native and Edgewater resident, said they found a lot of misconceptions about the poor when collecting stories. When talking to folks who aim to "clean up the neighborhood" many assumed that those living in affordable housing are substance abusers, panhandlers or criminals.

“They associate these things with all people who are poor and don’t see that a lot of people who live in affordable buildings have had jobs and had families but have had a bad turn of luck,” Ravitz said.

Cheyfitz, a 26-year-old Logan Square resident, said the book, which the duo hopes to finish in the next year or two, will include pictures of Uptown residents “in their spaces, next to statements that they have written about their own lives.”

Cheyfitz said “I see a lot of myself in them,” referring to low-income housing residents she has encountered.

“I’m a pretty-privileged young white person,” she said. “But I can see easily one day needing subsidized housing. A lot of them have education and have been to college. I think that was something that, to be honest, surprised me at first.”

Ravitz said that most people who live in affordable housing “just want to make sure that they can continue to live in Uptown, where they have networks of potential employment, transportation and social services and things that they have established for themselves.”

Developer Flats Chicago's purchase of former low-income housing buildings in Uptown in the past couple years, including the Lawrence House, 1020 W. Lawrence Ave., has “started anew the tensions that had already been underlying for decades," Ravitz said.

Low-income residents aren’t necessarily against all the change that gentrification brings, including improvements to the safety and aesthetic of the neighborhood, Ravitz said.

In fact, "a lot of them are for the cleaning up of the violence and trash from the streets," Ravitz said.

But, she added, "they don’t want to see their homes taken away."