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'We're Strangers in Our Own Land': Protesters Decry Humboldt Park Mansions

By Evan F. Moore | January 30, 2016 6:05pm | Updated on February 1, 2016 9:42am
 The plan to build five new $900,000 single-family homes on Humboldt Boulevard drew ire from residents at a protest Saturday.
The plan to build five new $900,000 single-family homes on Humboldt Boulevard drew ire from residents at a protest Saturday.
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DNAinfo/Evan F. Moore

HUMBOLDT PARK — Xavier Perez grew up in Humboldt Park right by the 606 elevated trail. He said that real estate developers who have come into the community in recent years, some capitalizing on the popularity of the trail, don't care about maintaining its diversity.

"They like diversity from afar. They don't like diversity in the classrooms with their kids. That's what they are afraid of," said Perez, part of a group of about 50 long-time Humboldt Park residents who gathered Saturday in front of a home on the 1700 block of North Humboldt Boulevard

The group was protesting five new $900,000 luxury single-family homes proposed by developer Perry Casalino, a plan that would be unthinkable not too long ago. But interest in the 606 has been drawing wealthy homebuyers to Humboldt Park, real estate experts said.

Casalino could not be reached for comment. 

Community members from groups such as Grassroots Illinois Action and The Logan Square Neighborhood Association fear that the properties developed by Casalino will lead to increased rent and property taxes that ultimately will push longtime residents out. 

"Our taxes are going up and our paychecks are staying the same," said Juan Media, who's lived in Humboldt Park for 30 years. "We will be forced to sell if we haven't been already. My neighbors that have already been forced to sell can't afford the rent in this neighborhood anymore."

Staci Slattery of the Biazar Group, a co-listing agent on the properties, said she understands the concerns of longtime residents. However, she said that there's high demand from people who want to live in Humboldt Park.

"I think people have a right to express themselves, but we're in a large city. This is a trend that started a few years ago," Slattery said. "I understand people have hard feelings about this, but there's a high demand from people who are looking for housing."

Like most residents fighting gentrification, the protesters said they fear being kept out of the communities where they spent so long building up connections.

"What [developers] do is create their own social exclusion. They want to exclude the poor and minorities in Chicago," Perez said.

To build the mansions, the developer will have to demolish the current buildings, which one historic buildings expert said could be problematic. Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago said in a statement, "The building which is threatened by demolition on Humboldt Boulevard is certainly an important historic house in a National Register Historic District. It is also our opinion that historic preservation and affordability go hand-and-hand, and encourage the growth of healthy neighborhoods and communities."

Delia Ramirez not only grew up in Humboldt Park, she is a landlord who is trying to resist the temptation to raise her tenants' rent.

"It is declared that we shouldn't be here. If I sell, that means that my family and my tenants will have to go," Ramirez said. "They say the [606] trail is a part of the new Chicago. What are we? The 'old' Chicago."

Ramirez said that living in Humboldt Park has gotten expensive since the 606 trail was built.

"We want to enjoy it but we may not be here to do so," Ramirez said. "We're strangers in our own land."

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