“When Mitzi Haynes’ daughter Taylor moved back to Chicago in 2017, escalating rents forced her to move in with Haynes and Haynes’ mother in a cramped two-bedroom apartment in South Shore. “It’s going okay, for now,” Haynes said. “But the main problem’s lack of space.”
“A year before her daughter’s return, Haynes listened with cautious optimism as the Obama Foundation announced its partnership with the city and the University of Chicago to build the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park, a few minutes’ drive north from her apartment.
“In the vision presented by the city and the foundation, the OPC would be a sprawling complex, replete with athletic facilities, open-air gathering spaces, Obama’s Presidential Library—and a museum, whose design, as the foundation’s website proclaims, ’embodies the idea of ascension.’
“President Obama and his surrogates pledged that the OPC would not displace longtime South Side residents, and tendered lofty promises of job creation and economic development for Woodlawn and South Shore—the historically disinvested neighborhoods surrounding the OPC. Haynes wanted to believe.
“But by the time her daughter returned to Chicago a year after the announcement, Haynes’ hope that those promises would be kept had evaporated.
“‘As time went on,’ she said, ‘with the rising rent, yeah. That, to me, did not ring true.’
“The Haynes family are multigenerational South Side residents. Both Haynes and her mother were born here, and Haynes raised her daughter in Hyde Park. ‘My family’s considered ‘lifers’,’ she notes with pride.
“Over the past four years, however, Haynes has watched in alarm as neighbors in her building are priced out of or evicted from their apartments. Haynes’ brother, a fellow lifer and longtime resident of Hyde Park, recently considered moving after the rent on his one-bedroom apartment tripled in the past five years.
“After her own rent ballooned by thirty percent in just three years, Haynes, a pharmacy technician, decided to move her and her mother out of the city, before their rent spikes again.
“Haynes explained that the magnitude of the Obama family’s celebrity status can cause some to look away from the OPC’s local impact. ‘He’s the golden boy. You have some people out here, who, doesn’t matter what he does, what he says, he’s still Obama…so he could do no wrong.’
“But for her, the OPC’s impact is clear. ‘To me,’ she said, ‘it’s not for the community.’
“Meanwhile, the prices of land, for-sale properties, and rent have skyrocketed in all the neighborhoods surrounding Jackson Park since the 2016 announcement. A 2019 study from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning found that in the two-mile radius surrounding the OPC’s planned site, nearly ninety-one percent of renters ‘cannot afford their monthly rent,’ and that ‘the majority cannot afford’ rents in newly renovated and new construction units either.
“Within the OPC’s two-mile radius, which primarily includes Black, low-income households, eviction rates are some of the highest in the city, according to the study. In South Shore—not two miles away from where the museum designed to embody ascension will stand—1,800 households, or about nine percent of renters, are evicted annually.
“Now, as the coalition fights to secure protections for South Shore and beyond, Bennett said their message remains focused on the needs of families like Haynes’—not on critiquing President Obama, nor sparing him or his foundation accountability.
“‘We don’t have time to waste in the discussion of ‘well it’s Obama, trust him,’ or ‘he’s the first Black president and you’re trying to stop him,” said Bennett. ‘It’s way beyond Obama. We have to focus on saving our lives, our homes.'”(Murney, South Side Weekly, 3/3/21)