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Uptown neighbors rally against Borders and for affordable housing
by Tracy Baim

This article shared 1575 times since Wed Nov 21, 2001
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"A world without borders and a city without Borders." That is the rallying cry of residents and business owners who oppose the development proposed for the vacant Goldblatt's property at the corner of Broadway and Lawrence. Plans include a 20,000-square-foot retail place for Borders Bookstore and only partial affordable housing that prices out most Chicago families.

Women & Children First Bookstore hosted one in a series of public debates about various projects resulting from the creation of a TIFF, or special tax district, on Chicago's North Side. The Broadway/Lawrence project is just one mile from the 22-year-old feminist bookstore's home, and would have a negative impact on sales of area independent bookstores.

Independent stores of all kinds have been decimated by corporate-owned chain stores around the U.S., including book, clothing and hardware stores, said co-owner Ann Christophersen. Women & Children First is among those independent stores fighting back—through the courts and through the court of public opinion.

While the development for the Goldblatt's building is not a done deal, 48th Ward Ald. Mary Ann Smith is backing the project. A public hearing will be held Nov. 27, 7 p.m. at Peoples Church, 941 W. Lawrence, and the City Council will hold public hearings Dec. 11, according to Greg Harris, Smith's openly gay Chief of Staff.

Queer to the Left and other gays and lesbians at the Nov. 13 bookstore meeting oppose the development and asserted their support of a coalition of neighborhood groups who are working to make sure any developments include truly affordable housing. Right now, according to state law, "affordable" is based on a standard of several surrounding counties...including wealthy counties such as DuPage and Lake, instead of being based on the standards of the immediate neighborhood.

Greg Harris of Smith's office said the Leland Hotel redevelopment project, by a separate developer, is being connected to the Goldblatt's renovation because of income needed to justify both projects through future property taxes.

The condo units at the Goldblatt's property would be "market rate," Harris said, with 20% set aside for "affordable" rates, based on 120% of the area medium for a family of four...but at $150,000, that rate is still too high for most people who currently live in the neighborhood.

"The deals are done in the sense that they have to be ready to be proposed to the community and the City Council," Harris said. "Before they bring them forward [ to the community ] , they have to say what the deal is, the financing, etc."

Ald. Helen Shiller, whose 46th Ward borders the Goldblatt's and includes the Leland, said she was unaware of the controversy surrounding the Borders and will investigate further. She said the projects are complicated and still being developed, and she has a strong interest in having more low-cost and affordable housing in the area.

As for having a Borders Bookstore in the location, Harris said Ald. Smith's office has been meeting with shop owners and they want to "do everything we can" to make sure that independent booksellers are not hurt.

But Christophersen was adamant that Borders, which has been accused of illegal competitive practices in the past, does not play on the same field as smaller stores. No matter what assurances might be given by Borders, she said, they cannot be trusted.

"The city could show a commitment to small businesses," Christophersen said, by making the space available to many businesses instead of one megastore which could fold. Bookstore co-owner Linda Bubon said both the Evanston and Diversey Borders are "underperforming" stores, so the location could be at risk of being vacant again.

Christophersen was also upset that she heard that some people backing the Borders have said her store was not opposed to the development. "We never said that. We have said quite the contrary. It will hurt us and other stores. We told Ald. Smith this a year ago in a letter from the Andersonville Chamber. Harbor no illusions ... a competitor who doesn't compete on the same playing field does hurt."

"It's a quality of life issue," Christophersen told the crowd of about 90 people at her store. "I try to buy anything I can on this block."

As an example of how the corporate chain stores have hurt her industry, Christophersen noted that in the early 1990s, there were more than 5,000 independent bookstores in the U.S. "Today, there are only around 2,000 left. It is no coincidence that the 1990s were the decade of the rise of the megastore. We are a pro-local, independent owned business. These are important qualities to have and maintain."

Other speakers on the stage and from the audience included representatives from community organizations and Queer to the Left. Jeff Edwards and Debbie Gould, Queer to the Left members, spoke passionately about the need to keep the neighborhood diverse and inclusive. Gould presented several specific strategies they are working on to find alternatives to the current plans.

Christophersen added that she believes it is important for gays and lesbians to take the issue of affordable housing seriously. "It is our issue," she said. "It is in our interests."

Several non-gay neighborhood residents recalled being targeted by gentrifying white gay men who want to get rid of "their kind." A young white gay man said people just moving into Uptown have said they hate to have to shop in the suburbs for what they need. But he said it was easy to find everything within walking's that the new residents don't want to shop in existing stores.

Letters on the project can be directed to Ald. Mary Ann Smith, 5533 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640.

COURAJ [ Community Of Uptown Residents for Affordability and Justice ] can be reached at ( 773 ) 769-2085.


The following are excerpts from a speech given by Queer to the Left's Jeff Edwards at the forum at Women & Children First.

I am going to address two questions. First, why would a group of people organize themselves as lesbians, trans people, bisexuals, gay men, or queers to address issues of community development and affordable housing, as those of us in Queer to the Left have? And second, what do members of Q2L see as the stakes involved in the economic development politics of Uptown-Edgewater-Andersonville?

There is a long tradition of LGBTQ housing activism, beginning with efforts in major cities in the 1970s to create housing for youth thrown out of their homes by homophobic parents, and for youth moving to big cities in order to come out, but who lacked the means to support themselves. Then, faced with the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, LGBTQ communities began organizing for housing that was both affordable and structurally accessible for people with disabilities. And throughout this whole period, lesbians and bisexual women have been involved in organizing shelters for people facing domestic violence.

Furthermore, cities and urban neighborhoods have been central to making queerness visible in our society, enabling many kinds of LGBTQ folks to be open about their lives and to find lovers and friends in an otherwise hostile and violent society. And they have been central to helping us build and sustain both community and political power through their concentration of businesses, such as bars and bookstores; nonprofits ... ; and through their concentration of a political constituency. True, they have typically been dominated by whites, men, and the middle class, but all kinds of people need them, use them, and benefit from them.

So we are involved in housing issues as queers because LGBTQ people have particular housing needs, on top of the fact that there are LGBTQ people who have the same difficulties finding housing as other lower-income and/or single-earner families do. And having had to confront those needs, we are conscious of the importance of access to housing for all people. We believe that housing, like healthcare, is a human right...hence our coalition work with COURAJ. And we are involved in related issues of neighborhood economic development because our visibility, community, culture, and politics, are so rooted in the physical spaces of neighborhoods. But ... we're not the only people who have created community and political voice in a particular neighborhood context, and what we might identify as "gay" or "lesbian" neighborhoods ... we actually share with diverse communities of people...most of whom preceded us...who have had to confront similar problems of cultural and political exclusion.

But even all of this still doesn't fully explain the involvement of Q2L in these issues in Uptown, Edgewater, and Andersonville in particular. The immediate impetus to our work was actually that some of us who were living in Uptown several years ago began to hear about the prominent role that a number of relatively affluent gay newcomers to the neighborhood were playing in promoting gentrification...using their political influence to displace lower-income people and service agencies.

They have used the city's much-lauded community policing program, or CAPS, to direct police to harass youth of color on the streets, to target people in particular buildings for criminal investigation, and to pressure social-service organizations to eliminate programs for the homeless and others, so as to remake the neighborhood in more of a white, middle-class mold conducive to maximizing the return on their own housing investments. CAPS ... .

And these new-style gay activists have also used their influence with city building inspectors to write up so many code violations in selected rental buildings that owners are forced to sell to developers, who convert the buildings for condos priced out of the reach of prior tenants.

"Gay visibility" in the promotion of gentrification and the displacement of people of color and working-class people reached its height in the 1999 City Council elections, when these pro-gentrification activists formed [ a group ] ... to attack Helen Shiller, the longest and strongest advocate on the council for LGBT rights, and for the needs of People With AIDS, because they view her as an impediment to their project of class and racial cleansing of the neighborhood.

We strongly felt a need to respond, because we saw the potential for these activists to generate a homophobic backlash in a neighborhood where LGBTQ people of more modest means, many living with HIV and AIDS, have long lived in relative harmony with their neighbors. We saw the potential for this small but highly visible group to perpetuate the myth that LGBTQ people are all affluent and white and, far from facing meaningful oppression, are actually a privileged group of people. And we saw in their politics a threat to the very things LGBTQ people need in an urban neighborhood...housing for people of differing economic situations and differing household arrangements; a mix of social services and different types of businesses that meet the needs of people of different economic, ethnic, racial, and national backgrounds; streets and other public spaces where diverse forms of socializing, self-presentation, and self-expression are accommodated and accepted; and a politics built on the principle of giving voice to the excluded.

We have a different vision for our neighborhoods and our society. These are some of the important issues that we see at stake in the ongoing development of the Uptown/Edgewater/Andersonville neighborhoods:

1 ) Affordable housing for all. Our neighborhoods are a crucial center for struggle for the preservation of, and expansion of, affordable housing in Chicago. A study commissioned by the Metropolitan Planning Council from a research team at UIC ... showed that while metro Chicago grew by more than half a million people over the past decade, the number of rental units actually fell by 52,000; and that nearly 40% of all renters are paying more than a third of their income on rent. Over a five-year period in the mid-1990s, the city lost 13,000 units of rental housing to condo conversions, with most of these occurring on the North Side lakefront. Aside from people of moderate and low incomes in general being affected, PWAs are particularly hard hit. There are currently almost a thousand people living with AIDS in Uptown and Edgewater. According to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, more than half of the city's PWAs lives below the federal government's definition of the poverty level, and a third have been homeless at some point in their lives.

2 ) Related to this crisis in affordable housing is our concern to defend and cultivate what we term a vibrant city culture, as opposed to the sort of homogeneity and conformity most of us associate with suburbia. Again, we see our neighborhoods as a crucial center of struggle. City cultures are about heterogeneity, about spaces that promote all different kinds of self expression, being, and socializing...that's why the LGBTQ movement in the U.S. started in big cities, and why cities continue to draw LGBTQ people from suburbs and rural areas all the time, either to live, or at least to visit for a while. The sort of gentrification we see taking place on the North Side of Chicago is a threat to city demands and creates homogeneity: homogeneity of households, homogeneity of retail businesses, homogeneity on the streets and in other public places.

It presents a particular barrier to youth, who cannot afford the "old" or "new" gay neighborhoods, and who find a shrinking place for themselves in our neighborhoods' public places. That harms not just youth, but the rest of the community that benefits from what youth have to bring it. Today, 30 years after gay neighborhood-building that was concerned about creating a vibrant public life became so central to our movement, some more privileged individuals take this work for granted, or even look with disdain upon what they call "gay ghettos," such as Lakeview, unable to see that these spaces still make their lives possible, and that many people, particularly youth, still seek out and need these "liberated zones" to be able to come into visibility as queers and to find community and empowerment for the first time in their lives as queers.

This drive to homogenize is also a threat to our public sexual culture. ... [ In ] a city, different qualities are valued by different people. The drive to homogenize has serious implications for queer sexual culture. Look at New York City, where Mayor Giuliani's "Quality of Life" campaign has targeted public cruising areas ( especially important for youth and lower-income people not old enough or affluent enough to socialize inside bars ) , as well as bars and sex clubs. Here in Chicago in Lakeview: note the closing of the backroom at Cell Block; there is a fear from bar owners that growing straight gentrification poses a threat to bars.

Finally, the drive towards homogenization is a threat to our political prospects. We face backlash when people view us as privileged, and the current pro-gentrification project advertises us as privileged. We make progress when we can link up with other oppressed groups.

This article shared 1575 times since Wed Nov 21, 2001
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