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South Side Chicago residents recently revealed to the Washington Post that the construction of the Obama Presidential Center has led to a significant increase in the neighborhood’s rent, causing the displacement of long-term residents, including many black families.
In September 2021, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama broke ground on the Obama Presidential Center in the South Side of Chicago. The center, located on a 19-acre lot, will include a public library, playground, community centers, and a museum.
The $500 million project has been largely financed by private donors. The construction, which is still ongoing, is estimated to bring $3.1 billion to the community. In addition, it is predicted to generate another $16.5 million in state and local tax revenue.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Obama told the audience that the center would “give back to Chicago and the South Side in particular.”
“The Obama Presidential Center is our way of repaying some of what this amazing city has given us,” he stated.
Obama Foundation Executive Vice President for Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis said, “Our hope and intention is that the people who live there now are able to enjoy the center when it comes online.”
Strautmanis claimed that the project created the “opportunity for this to be a success story.”
However, long-term residents say that the center has already started to result in the gentrification of the community.
Since construction began, investors have bought up property in the area and substantially raised rent prices, residents explained. In that time, the median rent in the area increased by 43%. According to Zillow data, home values have spiked over 130% since the project was announced.
Chicago resident Priscilla Dixon stated that the neighborhoods around the Obama Center used to be close-knit communities home to many black families.
“In political spaces, people can become numbers, experiences can become trends,” Dixon stated. “But the reality is that this is about real people, and we don’t want the Obama Center — the center honoring the first black president — to be another page in the long history of displacing black people or doing harm to black families. The city is the only one that can stop that.”
“I’m a working mother who can’t afford to live in my own community that I’ve lived in for 42 years,” Tahiti Hamer, a Chicago resident, told the Post.
A single mother of three children, Hamer said she was forced to move out of her neighborhood more than a year ago after her landlord raised her rent by almost 40%.
Chinella Miller, a South Shore resident, told the Post that her landlord raised the rent by 90%, pushing her to move to another neighborhood.
According to Miller, property listings in the area frequently list the Obama Center as a selling point.
William Sites, a professor in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice at the nearby University of Chicago, told the Post, “With a development of this size and economic impact, it was unavoidable that it would have a profound effect on the local housing market and exacerbate existing affordability challenges for many low-income residents of Woodlawn and South Shore.”
“The evidence was pretty clear that even before the groundbreaking, early on in the predevelopment process, housing values were rising quite dramatically in both Woodlawn and South Shore,” Sites added.
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Candace Hathaway is a staff writer for Blaze News.