Groups push preservation of affordable housing in Rogers Park

The advocates will speak at a meeting in Rogers Park, organized by Lakeside Community Development Corporation and Northside POWER. It’s scheduled for 3 p.m. at Rogers Park Presbyterian Church, 7059 N. Greenview Ave.

Organizers said they planned to discuss two topics at the meeting: a proposed tax increment financing district that would finance improvement and preservation of affordable rental housing in the 49th Ward and efforts to introduce state legislation that would help families and communities facing foreclosure.

The proposed TIF district would finance a rental improvement fund that landlords of multifamily rental properties could use to make improvements to the property on the condition that the landlords maintain rents at affordable levels.

Polyana Wolf, a community leader working with Northside POWER, said she has been talking to landlords, city officials and community members to inform them about the rental improvement fund proposal.

POWER is an acronym for People Organized to Work, Educate and Restore.

Wolf, a Rogers Park resident since 2001, said she became involved in affordable housing issues after being displaced twice, once when her apartment building was converted to condominiums and again when her rent jumped $200.

“I was very concerned about being able to continue to live here,” Wolf said.  “It’s really traumatic to get displaced.”

Wolf said she was struck by the community’s positive response to the proposal but that some have been concerned with the creation of another TIF district amid widespread criticism of TIFs.

Wolf said the proposal was a model of TIF reform and that organizers have tried to respond to concerns about TIFs in drafting the proposal.

A document describing the proposal released by Lakeside CDC and Northside POWER lists as differences from traditional TIFs a baseline that rises with the cost of living, a so-called use it or lose it provision for the improvement funds and community oversight of the TIFs.

Wolf said that the proposal also differs from other TIFs aimed at creating affordable housing. “Our definition of affordability is based on what’s traditionally been affordable in the community.”

Wolf said she hoped the rental improvement fund could be a model for other communities concerned with preserving affordable housing.

“This is the best effort that I’ve seen any community come up with to maintain a balance,” Wolf said.  While many communities are either mostly wealthy or poor, Wolf said, “people from all walks of life can live in Rogers Park.  We want to preserve thousands of apartments that we already have.”

Lakeside CDC Executive Director Brian White said the next step for the proposal is an eligibility study that would investigate the condition of real estate in the community, the taxing base, the geographic boundaries of the proposed district and identify existing land uses within the proposed district’s boundaries.

While the Chicago Department of Community Development has been supportive of the eligibility study, White said, the size of the district means that the costs of the study, conducted by outside consultants, will be significant.

White said supporters must seek outside funding because the city is not able to fund it.

White said supporters of the proposal have been working with private foundations in the Chicago metropolitan area to gain funding for an eligibility study.  “So far it’s looking promising, but we don’t have a commitment yet,” White said.  “I hope we’ll be able to announce some real progress on the funding piece.”

White said the meeting would be an opportunity for community members to learn more about the proposal and its impact on the community.  “They might not know the big picture,” White said.

White said the meeting would also be an opportunity to publicly acknowledge those who had been working to support the proposal and to demonstrate community support to state and local officials and representatives from the foundation community who have been invited to attend.

Pam Riedy, a community leader from Glenview working with Northside POWER, said the second part of the meeting would focus on legislative goals dealing with foreclosure.

Riedy said she is pushing for foreclosure legislation being drafted in Springfield to include a $1,000 fee when a court-foreclosed property is sold.  This fee, paid by the lender selling the property, would go back to municipalities to fund door-to-door outreach and foreclosure mediation.

Riedy said advocates are looking for state funding to replicate a new Cook County foreclosure mediation program statewide.  Riedy said both door-to-door outreach and mediation are crucial for homeowners facing foreclosure to stay in their homes.

“Ninety-two percent of foreclosures are because people do not show up in court,” Riedy said. “By going to court and getting a mediator, that’s the best chance to renegotiate their loans.”

A second legislative goal would define responsibility for vacant properties, Reidy said.

She said that, under law, evicted, foreclosed homeowners are responsible for securing and maintaining the vacant property.

“It is not realistic to say the homeowner who’s been evicted from the house needs to come back to maintain the property,” Riedy said.

Supporters of foreclosure reform want to see legislation that holds banks that have taken ownership of a foreclosed property responsible for maintaining it.

Riedy said the public meeting would help define the issue and get city and county officials who had supported local measures to address foreclosure to support legislation extending the measure statewide.

She added that she is excited by community efforts for foreclosure reform.

“At a time when so many people are disenchanted with their elected officials,” Riedy said, “there’s a sense of energy.”

Read a fact sheet about the rental improvement fund.

Originally published April 14, 2010 as “Groups push preservation of affordable housing in Rogers Park” at Medill Reports.

Girls, gaming, and gender: summit looks at closing gaming participation gap

Female scholars, game designers, new media artists and 50 teenage girls from around Chicago plan to connect and collaborate in August at an event focusing on interactive gaming and gender.

A summit organizer said the goal was to “have a safe space where girls can talk about their relationship with games and technology with a really powerful role model and then begin to prototype something that would be a game that they would want to play.”

The public program of the event, called3G Summit: The Future of Girls, Gaming and Gender, is set to begin with a discussion and presentations featuring female scholars, designers and artists working in interactive game production and theory.

Throughout the summit, the Chicago-area girls will participate in a workshop during which they will collaborate with each other and experienced design mentors to create a prototype for a new digital game.

The game prototypes developed by the girls will be presented at a public exposition, where they will be critiqued by representatives from the gaming industry before being voted on by the public.

The winning game design will be produced into a fully-playable game by Columbia College students.

Mindy Faber, academic manager at Columbia’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media and an organizer of the summit, said that the majority of developers and designers in both Columbia’s game program and industry as a whole are men.

This gender imbalance affects the content of games, Faber said. “The themes and the stereotypes and the values that are embedded into the game mechanics themselves have become very identified with a kind of hyper-male culture.”

While there is a push to increase the participation of girls in gaming and technology, Faber said, many efforts are based on stereotypes about girls’ interests in gaming, such as the assumption that girls prefer not to play competitive games.

“We have so many assumptions and so many stereotypes about what girls like to play, but we never bother to stop and ask them, ‘What do you like to play best, and why?’”

Faber said the goal of the summit was to “have a safe space where girls can talk about their relationship with games and technology with a really powerful role model and then begin to prototype something that would be a game that they would want to play.”

Robyn Fleming, former senior editor of Cerise Magazine, a publication of an online network for women gamers, said that discussions of gender and gaming at conferences and symposia are typically small parts of a larger whole.

Fleming said such discussions also tend to address gender disparities in gaming by focusing on the idea that “a certain kind of game is going to appeal more to girls and that we should make those in order to attract girls.”

She said it is also important to address gaming culture and hostility or narrow constraints to female participation. “That’s something that you can’t address through creating a game.”

Five community youth media organizations and schools will each select 10 girls to participate in the summit, Faber said.

She said she plans to continue working with the youth participants after the summit. The partner community organizations and schools will receive a stipend to run after-school gaming clubs for girls supported by Columbia faculty.

The school will also teach the girls skills to create a citywide online social network to attempt to maintain connections between the girls and create a culture that supports girls and technology.

“We’re interested in trying to see if we work with them all three years and keep their club and social network going, if they end up choosing technology-rich careers or college options,” Faber said.

The summit is scheduled for Aug. 12-15 at Columbia’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media, 916 S. Wabash Ave., except for the panel discussion, which is scheduled to take place at Ferguson Auditorium, 600 S. Michigan Ave.

Related Links

Games for Change

Many of the ideas for the 3G summit come from last summer’s Games for Change workshops conducted by Columbia College Chicago’s Interactive Arts and Media Department as part of classes for high school students.  The multiweek class took a unique approach to share programming and game design skills to make games relevant to the experiences of the youth. See photos of workshop activities or play games produced by the youth.

This was originally published as Gaming summit aims to encourage girls in technology on the Medill Reports Chicago site.


I live in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.  When I tell people where I live, I’m often  asked “why Lakeview?” or given a glum, “oh.  That’s cool.”  My friends in Chicago don’t live in the neighborhood.  People think of it for the college town style bars in Wrigleyville, or going to The Alley when they were teenagers to get punk gear. I find that I’ve started to preempt the “Why Lakeview?” question with a quick explanation that I moved to that neighborhood because it had good neighborhood public schools and I moved to Chicago with 2 school-aged roommates.  This explanation seems to satisfy most people, but it doesn’t resonate.  Before this move, public schools aren’t something I would have factored into my neighborhood choice either.

When I talk to long-time Chicagoans who live in other neighborhoods, it makes me anxious.  In a city so defined by racial and economic segregation, I worry that people will think of me only in terms of perceptions of my neighborhood.  I will become only the privilege or ability or ability derived from privilege that gives me the means to pay the neighborhood’s above average rents.  And that is true, it is a part of my reality and who I am, but it’s not everything, just as the mostly white, mostly young, mostly professional folks living in condos are a part of the reality of lakeview, but not everything.

In terms of income, Lakeview looks like the table:

Income Diversity (by Families) in LAKE VIEW
1970 1980 1990 2000
# % # % # % # %
Low Income 9192 33% 7843 39% 3987 26% 2520 18%
Moderate Income 11553 42% 7480 37% 4962 32% 3305 23%
High Income 6748 25% 4807 24% 6325 41% 8393 59 %
Total 27492 100% 20131 100% 15274 100% 14219 100%
View 2005 Income Diversity Data

View 2005 Estimates and 2010 Projections

Note: Low income = families with annual income < $38,622, moderate income = families with annual income $38,622 – $78,825, families with annual income > $78,825.

Read full data and analysis.

In terms of race, the neighborhood looks like this:

Note that there’s no Latino group because the way that the 2000 census (and, I guess, subsequent EASI surveys) treat Spanish-speaking people is that they’re counted in the other racial groups. I’m told that most report themselves as white or other. The only breakdown of Latino or Spanish speaking people is relative to white folks who don’t identify as Latino or Hispanic. For Lakeview, this looks like this:

I’ve decided that it is reductive to, by my discomfort in owning up to where I live, define the place where I live only by the 59 percent of families that have high incomes or the nearly 79 percent that are white.  This ignores the 18 percent of low income families who found some way to work themselves into the neighborhood, perhaps in order to send their kids to a functional, vibrant public school.  It ignores the queer youth of color who come to the neighborhood so they can be out; and institutions like the Links Hall dance and performance space; the Chicago Womens Health Center, the LGBTQ community center, Center on Halsted; and  the Lakeview Action Coalition.

I can’t really say what all these parts mean, whether they’re bad or good, just that they’re part of the neighborhood.  When we think of place only by its biggest or loudest components we think of the way that they change in frightening terms, as one thing consuming or threatening another, instead of transformation or evolution.  I want to see the places in my life for everything that they are and might be.

Note: All the data from this post is from the fabulous Metro Chicago Information Center.  The photo is from Google Maps.

Organizing in schools for the census

Community organizers in the northeast of Chicago are partnering with school communities to make sure that their neighborhoods are accurately counted in the 2010 census.

When census forms are sent out at the beginning of March, the returned forms may not record everyone living in communities in northeast neighborhoods of Chicago, which may impact funding for those communities.

Hina Mahmood, a community organizer with Organization of the Northeast, an organization of congregations, schools, nonprofits, and businesses, that engages people in issues affecting residents in northeast Chicago  neighborhoods, said the 2000 census return rate for Rogers Park was only 53 percent.

A 2001 PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by the U.S. Census Monitoring Board, showed that 2000 census undercounts resulted in lost federal funds for communities.  The report, which looked at the effects of census undercounts on funding from eight major programs from 2002 to 2012, estimated that Cook County would lose over $192 million in funding.

Housing instability is one factor that contributes to undercounting in northeast Chicago, Mahmood said.  She said people living in homeless shelters may not be counted in the census or count themselves in another neighborhood, such as the one where they grew up.

Mahmood also explained that as affordable housing disappears, some families double or triple up in a housing situation.  Fearing eviction for over-occupancy, the residents may only fill out the census form for one family, Mahmood said.

Mahmood said there is a “fear factor” for many people that keeps them from participating in the census.  Undocumented immigrants are particularly reluctant to provide census information.  Mahmood said undocumented immigrants may think, “’If I report myself, ICE or Homeland Security will come out to get me.”  But she stressed that there were safeguards in place that restrict the census bureau from sharing information with other government institutions.

Funding for public schools, libraries, transit, health care, and job development programs were all tied to census numbers, Mahmood said, adding that under-counting a community meant “missing out on really important and necessary resources.”

Organization of the Northeast facilitators such as Mahmood are trying to work with parents in a number of local schools, including Gale, Boone, and Clinton, to encourage participation in the census.  Mahmood said that organizers arrange presentations to parents by census workers to describe the census process and explain what happens when a community isn’t accurately counted.

Mahmood also saw engaging the community in the census as an opportunity to open up dialog and build leadership around other community issues.  “Who knows what other conversations will come up,” Mahmood said.

How to Walk to School offers a compelling blueprint, but not a foundation

Moving to Chicago with two 9-year-olds, I had my first adult experience with “shopping” for schools. My household didn’t have the resources to consider private schools and were moving long after the deadline for applications to the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) selective magnet schools. So, the search for a good school was focused on the neighborhood schools where admission was guaranteed if a family lives within the school’s district boundaries. Knowing little about the city’s schools, websites provided information about test scores, programs offered, racial demographics, and, in some cases, parent reviews. The calculus of evaluating this information was extremely challenging. What needed to be read between the lines of parent reviews? Were there schools that deeply reflected diversity when a map of the highest rated schools and the racial makeup of the student bodies so clearly reflected the harsh rigidity of Chicago’s racial segregation, white flight, and gentrification? All of the factors seemed so difficult to weigh. How was I to compare the lively artwork (with notable connections across the curriculum) with the teacher who referred to some of her students as her “fragile babies” with the frantic parent distraught over pre-school admissions? Being only a quasi-parent complicated matters further. Ultimately, I wasn’t as intimately familiar with the needs of children that I had been living with as their mother. Furthermore, I found it hard to reconcile my abstract ideology with their concrete needs. I kept thinking of the choice in terms of my parents’ stories of changing race and class dynamics in the Flint, Michigan schools of their childhood and the subsequent flight of white, middle-class families from the schools and the city. I couldn’t stop thinking of the choice for these two kids in the broader context of how parents who could make choices about their children’s education ultimately made those choices. For better and for worse, even taking such larger dynamics into account, most parents make decisions based on the difficult projection of what will make their children most happy. As their mother firmly pointed out to me, the kids “aren’t an experiment.”

We ultimately moved to the Lakeview neighborhood, within the boundaries of the Nettelhorst school. On paper, the school seemed to have solid academics, a lot of arts programming, and visual first impressions showed a good playground, and vibrant exterior. The first time I visited the school, I was most struck by how designed the interior looked. It was neither sterile nor amateurish. It looked good. Slowly I heard bits and pieces of how parents in the community had invested in the school, shifting it from a school that faced many of the same problems as the majority of Chicago public schools into a highly desired, media acclaimed success story. The story of the changes seen by Nettelhorst seem almost mythical, so even if “How To Walk To School” does little to downplay the school’s mystique, it does provide a more comprehensive view of the school’s evolution.

“How To Walk To School” is co-authored by two of the key players in the school’s redevelopment. Jacqueline Edelberg is a parent who organized other East Lakeview parents to invest energy and resources into the neighborhood school while Susan Kurland is the former Nettelhorst principal who worked with community parents to bring changes to the school. Edelberg’s strategy for building a stong neighborhood school involved first organizing a small group of resourced neighborhood parents willing to commit to investing their energy, resources, and child’s attendence into the urban neighborhood public school rather than a private school, public magnet school, or a public school in the suburbs. These parents then built a strong relationship with an administrator (Kurland), who was willing to let the parents have broad access to the school to begin altering the school’s image in order to make it more appealing to other resourced families as an alternative to private or magnet schools. These parents also built relationships with cultural and community groups to provide services and programming at the school. This, once again, made the school more attractive to neighborhood parents and also to potential funders. Throughout the ongoing process of building a neighborhood school, the parents had to navigate the capricious funding and organizational dynamics of Chicago public schools. They also had to leverage their social capital to build relationships with everyone from neighborhood businesses to well-connected foundation board members to fund every aspect of the school’s changes. Finally, those working to bring about changes to the schoool had to adopt fundraising tactics from elite private schools and public relations strategies from the business sector to compete for scarce education funding dollars.

These strategies provide some surprising insights. The initial focus on attracting investment from resourced parents caused the original core group working to change the school to act first to make changes that some would argue as superficial. One such change was to remove the familiar posters encouraging students to read or discouraging negative behavior because such signs might trigger resourced parents’ negative preconceptions about the school.

Strangely, though written by Edelberg and Kurland, the story is told in the third person. While the authors try to be open about their orientations around the complicated issues that converge in public education, the third person voice ends up sounding more detached than objective. If, as the authors repeat throughout the books, school changes such as the ones happening at Nettelhorst can be initiated by average parents, everywhere, it is difficult to understand why they chose to awkwardly obscure their personalities, perspectives, and prejudices.

Narratives about public education often focus on a polarized cast of characters: parents, teachers, principals, school district administrators, politicians, and students. How to Walk to School tells a story about public education that is largely focused on a small group of parents and a principal. While such a focus makes sense in terms of the perspectives of the authors, no story about public education exists without the other players. Conflicts and challenges with teachers and other parents are frequently mentioned, but briefly, and as minor obstacles that could be powered through or circumvented. The approach taken by Edelberg and other neighborhood parents is a starkly unilateral one. Though the results of their efforts are impressive, the singular perspective of the book left me wondering if their were high costs to the approach of the Nettelhorst reformers that go unmentioned. The model and outcomes of the changes happening at Nettelhorst are interesting and significant, so it seems like the story deserves a more objective perspective that also includes the voices of those at odds with or marginalized by the changes in the school. Certainly, if the book is truly to act as a blueprint for other parents who want to enact change in their neighborhood schools, greater focus on the interpersonal, social, and ideological conflicts implicit to any kind of change would have been useful. With most of these challenges largely glossed over, the book may inspire others who wish to bring change to neighborhood schools but gives little perspective about how to improve on the process.

Divisions in race and class and the pain and animosity associated with these social rifts scar public education systems in the United States, particularly in cities with a long history of racial and economic segregation such as Chicago. In How to Walk to School, race and class loom as uncomfortable subjects. The ultimate result of the changes in Nettelhorst is that the neighborhood public school became a great educational option for middle to upper-middle class families who likely would have had a relatively large number of options for a quality education.

The authors of this book would likely admit that the strategy that they outline is a pragmatic one. However, it may be overly cynical. Early on, rather than changing neighborhood parents’ underlying prejudices about the school and the out-of-neighborhood students who filled it or mediating conflicts between students and school neighbors, those working to change the school chose to instead paint a more pleasant veneer over the school or limit interactions with students having just endured or preparing for a long bus ride home. Furthermore, while the book does not dismiss efforts towards fundamental shift in the amount of money directed by governments to public education, it believes that such changes are unlikely or slow to come and individual schools will have to help themselves.

The authors are quick to criticize “magic bullet” solutions such as CPS’ past dramatic restructuring of city schools. Just as these strategies can’t hope to solve for the diverse and deep problems of the district’s schools, Nettlehorst’s transformation doesn’t mean that the school is perfect. Sustaining quality public education remains a nuanced confluence of factors. The experience of the kids that I live with, transferring from a less resourced school to Nettelhorst, have been positive, but not idyllic. Ample funding for numerous arts programs hasn’t proven to be a match for a single excellent art teacher. Conversely, the visionary teachers who had such an equal, intimate relationship with their students at their old school had difficulty creating the calmer learning environment that they’ve found at Nettelhorst. Still, this doesn’t mean that the students don’t have to contend with capricious friendships, social hierarchies, and childhood cruelties. While the school has close relationships with the neighborhoods queer community, this doesn’t mean that students don’t bring their own family’s discomfort with different sexual orientations.

Perhaps, though, the most important change that results from the blueprint offered by How to Walk to School is not in the monetary resources of a school, its student demographics, or its curriculum, but a greater human investment, in terms of time, attention, and concern for public education from parents, administrators, neighbors, and the community. While this book stops short at exploring how this investment can help address challenges facing schools that can’t be improved with resources, such investments, if made carefully and with ample vision, might give way to broader transformations.

Why Chicago?

“I think everyone is familiar with Chicago’s well-known mythology – Al Capone, hog butcher to the world, Saul Bellow, But Chicago now is something less well-known, and the gap between those two things – the reality of the city today and the mythology of its yesteryears – creates a winning sense of ownership among people who live there, of guardedness, of toughness and skepticism, which is uniquely Chicagoan. It’s a big reason why I think we should pick Chicago as a city over, say New York, which mulches its outward image annually in the arena of pop culture. I felt for this reason the issue would have something truly new to say about the city, and by extension, about America.” – John Freeman, editor of the Granta literary magazine, on why the magazine chose to feature Chicago as the theme for its upcoming issue.

This was via a review in New City.

Categorized as chicago