Tuesday, April 19, 2016

King Canute In Avondale

There are neighborhoods in Chicago where Hispanic gangs once roamed. These days, those same gang bangers could not hope to afford the rents on rehabbed apartments, let alone the mortgage on a million dollar restored mansion that once was cut up into cheap housing.

Gentrification is swallowing up neighborhoods, beginning with the artists looking for cheap space and soon followed by hipsters looking for artsy places to live. The next thing you know there's a Starbucks on every corner and Whole Foods is building a new store where a clutch of carnicerias and cell phones shops once stood.

Some residents of neighboring sections are taking action.

Not unlike King Canute, who once famously commanded the tide to not roll in, and showed to one and all that even he could not command forces of nature.

Diversity: Going, going, gone.....
With gentrification comes more property tax as land values rise on a tide of improvements. For all the chatter of sympathy from the aldermen, they really prefer that a place gets gentrified because the city of Chicago is desperate for funds. So what if the poor people are pushed out to the suburbs? Bring in the 20-somethings with their desire to work in the city and the income that follows. They spend their cash on food at the trendy restaurants in Logan Square or Wicker Park, unlike the poor residents who don't have enough to go around.

Housing activist Daniel La Spata wants to keep Avondale from going the way of nearby Logan Square. He wants to command the sea of change from sweeping over his territory, to keep the current residents in place and maintain low rents. Its all about a neighborhood's diversity, and those who were there first not getting the boot because they're not as rich as the barbarians at the gate.

What Mr. LaSpata cannot do is demand legislation that would prevent a property owner from selling to someone looking to rehab a place.

Not exactly possible in the United States. From the start, it was denigrated as a nation of merchants, chasing profit. It hasn't changed.

Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa talks about forcing property developers to include a few affordable units in each new building, but that does little when so much low-income housing is lost when someone buys up an old brownstone and converts it to a single family home.

Neither can he bar a landlord from fixing up his two-flat and then jacking up the rent, leaving the low-income resident to either pay more or get out. As it is, those who are trying to stay in the area are spending more and more of their funds on housing, a practice that is not sustainable. Eventually, you run out of cash and can't pay the electric bill or buy a few groceries, and then it's time to renew the lease and the rent's going up yet again. No other choice, in that case, then to go elsewhere.

That group of hipsters working in finance in the Loop can easily pay what a family cannot, and who is going to win out? There's no incentive for the landlord to keep the rent low while property taxes keep climbing and sales taxes are the highest in the country. Why should someone go broke so that a neighborhood can remain more diverse?

As long as the city remains an attraction to kids coming out of college, there will be pressure on housing. The poor will be relegated to pockets without access to the things that the young set want, like public transportation that gets them downtown.

King Canute showed his people that he had no power to hold back the sea. Avondale is no less vulnerable to the flood.

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