Thursday, January 9, 2014

War on Poverty

I’ve written at this blog before about media saturation. Where even something as significant as the War on Poverty gets churned over and over into a sound byte.

Anyway, I listen to NPR in the morning and been hearing about the impact of this far-reaching legislation. At least that was how it was envisioned. I can tell you from my experience living in Uptown these past few years—it feels like a War on the Poor.

When I first came to Uptown it felt like a VERY DIFFERENT place. There was trash every where, people lived in their cars, vacant lots were full of trash. Every weekend a building burned. I and a number of other residents worked to improve the lives of the people around us. At times it seemed like a war, being surrounded by rubble and the wounds typical of those living in poverty. I remember one guy, a terrible junkie who would come by for our neighborhood feeding program. I remember thinking, He could be my brother. He was young and somewhat attractive—as if he’d come from “good people.” One week he showed up without one of his arms. I was shocked. On the streets things can go from fair to bad to really bad faster than you can say whoa or watch out!

That being said. Things have changed. Uptown is at the epicenter of a developer war—actually there is very little fighting. Not when public officials are giving kickbacks and public TIF money for prime real estate to be developed into luxury condominiums. The drawback to gentrification is that the area becomes homogenized; the newcomers once welcomed begin to squeeze out the elderly, those living on fixed incomes, folks in the margins of society.

The Lakeview Action Coalition, a neighborhood activist organization, estimates the North Side has lost nearly 2,000 affordable units in the past three years alone. Meanwhile demand for affordable housing has spiked. Simply put, policy is not meeting reality.” This from Uptown Uprising on Facebook which I follow.

As housing demand accelerates on Chicago’s North Side, another trend has emerged: Single-room occupancy units are being converted into upscale hotels and apartments, pushing out longtime low-income residents who have few other housing options. ONE Northside, an Uptown community-organizing group, estimates that 14 North Side buildings that once provided affordable housing to low-income people have been sold since 2011. That’s a net loss of around 2,205 affordable units, which are designed to cost low-income renters no more than 30 percent of their income.” This from The Chicago Reporter.

Affordable housing stock is under siege in Uptown. Current public officials would like to see the homeless shelters, Salvation Army feeding programs, and other social agencies disappear. Some days it really does feel like a battle—just to continue reaching out to the poor in Uptown.

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