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Obama Library Should Benefit Neighbors, Not Push Them Out, Residents Say

By Sam Cholke | November 30, 2016 6:17am | Updated on December 2, 2016 11:43am
 Woodlawn residents are writing to President Barrack Obama to ask  that he makes sure his library doesn't price them out of the neighborhood.
Woodlawn residents are writing to President Barrack Obama to ask that he makes sure his library doesn't price them out of the neighborhood.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

WOODLAWN — Efforts to secure long-term benefits for the neighborhoods around the development of the Barack Obama Presidential Library geared up Tuesday with a letter-writing campaign to the president.

Residents of the 240-unit Island Terrace Apartments, 6430 S. Stony Island Ave., across the street from where the Obama library will be built in Jackson Park, sat down after their monthly tenants meeting to write letters to the president asking him to guarantee that they won’t get pushed out by his library.

“I’m trying hard to make sure we stay affordable when the presidential library comes in,” said Michelle Williams, president of the residents’ council and a 16-year resident of the building. “We will not be moved.”

There was already anxiety in the building when PNC Bank bought the property three years ago, causing residents to worry the new owner wouldn’t have the same commitment to keeping the units affordable.

Williams said she’s received assurances from the bank that the building will remain affordable in the near term, but said she’s worried the lure of rising property values once the Obama library opens in 2021 will test that commitment.

She said she wants something in writing from the Obama Foundation, the nonprofit leading the development of the library, that neighborhood people who stuck out the rough years in Woodlawn will get to stay and enjoy the library. She said she trusts Obama to do the right thing, but doesn’t trust that he knows what everyone who works for him is doing, which is why she’s writing him directly.

The letter-writing is part of a campaign by Southsiders Together Organizing for Power, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and other groups that are pushing to get something in writing from the Obama Foundation by the end of next year.

The foundation in the past has not said it would sign a community benefits agreement. Representatives have said that the library will benefit the community and the library will be a benefit in and of itself, but has stopped short of making specific guarantees that some in the community are asking for.

The foundation announced a diversity council in October, but it is unclear whether it would tackle some or all of the requests of the groups pushing for a benefits agreement.

Alex Goldenberg, an organizer pushing for the benefits agreement, said efforts will ramp up in the new year as specific desires become more concrete.

Currently, the group is working from a list of principles developed in September that includes standards for local hiring and minority-owned business participation, safeguards for affordable housing and programming targeted for kids in the immediate area.

Goldenberg said the city and the University of Chicago also will be asked to sign the agreement.

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