LOGAN SQUARE — There was dancing and cheering at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association's 53rd Annual Congress — but it didn't distract from serious concerns about state budget cuts and gentrification that residents aired with local representatives Saturday.
With mere weeks before the ribbon-cutting of The 606, an elevated park trail planned in the style of New York's High Line, residents of the neighborhood said they are wary of being forced out by skyrocketing property values.
Many residents had been clamoring for years for the city to reclaim the 2.7-mile long stretch of abandoned track, and most expressed excitement for its opening. Still, speakers at Armitage Baptist Church, 2451 N. Kedzie Ave. Saturday took turns calling on policymakers to keep working-class homeowners in mind.
"For 10 years we've been talking about having this space for our children and families to enjoy, and on June 6, it's finally coming," said Delia Ramirez, one of the event's organizers, to a roar of applause. "Now, all we want is to be able to stay and enjoy it. We don't want to see people start to be forced out of the community we love."
Just the announcement of the 606, Ramirez said, was enough to spike property values all along the trail.
"Yesterday I woke up to the sight of seven for-sale signs, all on the same block down the street from me," she said. "I sat looking out my window, and I thought, 'Six months from now, will I even recognize the community I live in?'"
The LSNA used the Congress to unveil a new campaign aimed at voters and newcomers to the area, featuring banners with photos and stories of people affected by rising rents and property taxes. One banner, bearing a picture of a teenaged Jennifer Velazquez with her family, reads: "I live eight houses away from the elevated train track where the 606 will be, and I'm already starting to see some changes. It's going to attract a lot of people, so how can I be a part of it?
Velazquez, now a 20-year-old organizer for LSNA, said city and county officials should consider tax controls to soften the blow of rising prices.
"Taxes are going to go up regardless, we know that," she said. "But if we are able to control them for a while, people will be able to start working with them until they’re making enough money to be able to pay them."
During the Congress, Velazquez publicly interviewed Cook County Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr., elected this year to represent Logan Square. When she asked him if he'd support a property tax abatement program for the area around the 606, he deflected the question but said he was "committed to working with the LSNA to make sure everyone hears your voice."
Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios also made an appearance to remind residents of their own power to temper the inflating values of their property.
"We're using computers to reevaluate properties in every neighborhood in the system, because we don't have the staff to go into each house individually," Berrios said. "If you think our appraisal is wrong for your property, it's up to you to appeal it, and we'll be waiting to work with you."
In a brief keynote address at the end of the event, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle didn't reference any specific policy action but echoed the importance of affordable housing, of which "demand far outweighs its supply."
The Congress also set aside a portion of the morning to discuss Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed budget cuts to community programs like LSNA's popular Parent Mentor Program. Students, volunteers and legislators took turns extolling the benefits of the program while calling on the state House to preserve it.
"We've tried to work with [Rauner], but he's shown us from his swearing in that he doesn't care about working families, he doesn't care about our communities," said State Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago). "We need to send him the message that government isn't a corporation. ... He should be closing corporate loopholes, not balancing the budget on the backs of the working class."
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