City winning 2016 Olympic bid could make some lose homes

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Residents living in apartment buildings near Michael Reese Hospital, 2929 S. Ellis, and throughout the Bronzeville community, hope the city does not win its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games. The tenants, many of them low-income, said if the city wins th

Residents living in apartment buildings near Michael Reese Hospital, 2929 S. Ellis, and throughout the Bronzeville community, hope the city does not win its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

The tenants, many of them low-income, said if the city wins the bid, they could lose their homes.

Michael Reese Hospital will close by year end, and Mayor Richard M. Daley has announced that the city will buy the site for $85 million as a proposed location for the Olympic Village, a structure that would serve as temporary housing for competing athletes and other Olympic officials and participants.

If the city does not get the bid to host the 2016 Olympics, the site would be sold to a developer.

The Olympic Village development plan calls for construction of up to 7,500 permanent units and 1,000 units that could later be converted into residences. A traditional street grid would also be created, along with retail outlets, parks, schools and other amenities.

The proposal has apartment renters near the site on edge.

“I am afraid that if the city wins their Olympic bid, it would displace many of us poor, Black folks,” said Cathy Weatherspoon, 88, who lives at the Lawless Gardens apartment complex at 3550 S. Rhodes. “My building is three blocks from the Olympic Village site, and I can’t see the city spending all that money to build the darn thing knowing that welfare folks live a few blocks away.

Some residents fear the temporary housing complex will permanently displace them.

“I am on a fixed-income, and I cannot afford to go nowhere else. I have lived here for 20 years, and if the Olympic Village causes me to move, I do not know where I could go and still be close to the lake and have good public transportation,” said Marian Jefferson, 76, who lives in the Lake Grove Village complex at 3555 S. Cottage Grove Ave. “It’s just not fair that we have to be displaced for some people who will only be here for the summer. That’s crazy if you ask me.”

Tenants at other high-rise apartment complexes also are fearful that they will have to move because of the Olympics.

“I have three kids, and I am a full-time student so I cannot afford to just pick up and move,” said Sheila Sutton, 30, who lives in the Lawless Gardens complex. “My mother lives on the compound as well, and she watches my kids while I am at school for free. So if I move, that means I have to get on the bus with three small kids in the morning and bring them here.”

Lawless Gardens is owned and managed by East Lake Management and Development Corp., a Black-owned real estate company based here in the city. Eileen Rhodes, a vice president at East Lake, said the company has no plans to sell the 750-unit building or convert the predominately low-income units into condos.

“We have owned that complex for some years now and are not looking to sell or redevelop it into condos,” Rhodes said. “Many of the tenants there have lived there for years so they are like family to us and East Lake treats its family well.”

Community advocates said Bronzeville has a growing senior population that could soon change if more young, white couples continue to purchase the new, expensive condos and townhomes being built throughout the area.

“The seniors that were once the cornerstone of Bronzeville are slowly disappearing and moving to senior housing buildings outside Bronzeville,” said Nathan Kunjufuwon, executive director of Black Pride, a non-profit, community organization that advocates for affordable housing in Bronzeville.

“My mother once lived in the Lake Meadows apartment complex until the rent got too high for her. Now she lives in a senior complex in Bronzeville, but even that is beginning to be a bit much.”

Kunjufuwon’s mother lives in The Lincoln Perry Apartments at 3245 S. Prairie Ave. She said while she likes where she lives, other seniors there are running out of options and time.

“My son helps me pay for my stay here, but a lot of seniors do not have children in a position to help them so they are on their own,” said Janice Parker, 93. “I just hope the seniors remember all of this transition the city and government is taking us through come election time.”

And tenants at smaller apartment buildings paying market rent said they are worried about the future of Bronzeville too and wonder if they will be able to stay.

“I don’t live in a low-income, high-rise building, and I am not on a fixed income. I work. But that does not mean I want to move or can afford to for that matter,” said Reginald McPherson, 45, who lives at 3558 S. Giles. “I just want to be able to drive home without encountering a lot of traffic, which I know will not happen if the Olympics come here. But at the very least, I do not want to be priced out of my unit.”

The Olympic Village project will be located in the Fourth Ward and has the support of the ward’s Ald. Toni Preckwinkle. City Hall sources said Preckwinkle has for months been urging Mayor Richard M. Daley to create a new Tax Increment Financing district within the existing Bronzeville TIF. The new TIF would generate the capital needed to finance the proposed $1.1 billion Olympic Village development, which would include costly infrastructure improvements such as roadways, sewers and sidewalks.

Preckwinkle was out of town and unavailable for comment by Defender press time. A full, 23-year TIF is needed for the 37-acre Michael Reese site, said Pete Scales, director of communications for the Chicago Planning and Development Department. He said whether or not the city wins the Olympic bid, the Michael Reese site will be redeveloped into a quality site.

At press time, the 2016 Olympic committee has raised $32.7 million and spent $9.2 million. It expects to spend a total of $49.3 million to help Chicago compete against Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro. A decision on where the 2016 Olympics will be held is expected by October 2009.

Patrick Ryan, chairman of the city’s 2016 Olympic Committee, did not return phone calls by press time.

Wendell Hutson can be reached via e-mail at whutson@chicagodefender.com.

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Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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