This is part of a series of interviews Windy City Times is running on LGBTQ+ candidates in the 2023 municipal elections taking place Feb. 28.
Jocelyn Chou Hare, who is senior assistant director of Harris Policy Labs at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, is making her second attempt at running to represent the city's 5th Ward.
Hare previously ran for the post in 2015, but lost to Ald. Leslie Hairston, who's now stepping down. Hare spoke with Windy City about her extensive work on housing and data collection, as well as the need for resources on the South Side, among other issues. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Windy City Times: This is your second attempt at running for this office, after having lost to Leslie Hairston back in 2015. You're facing a large pool of candidates this time around. What motivated to run againand what did you learn from the first time you ran?
Jocelyn Hare: Running the first time was a transformative experience. I've always told folks, especially my students, that if you ever think of running for office, do it. With our democracy at this moment, we don't have a lot of regular folks who are making decisions for their own peoplethat's really frustrating. Since about 2016, politics have gotten really dismal, and we haven't seen a lot of stuff get done.
I always said I would run again, but the timing had to be right. I did not run in 2019 because I was in the middle of doing work for the South Side Housing Data Initiative. When I ran eight years ago, the first thing I said I would do if elected would be to conduct community asset mapping across the ward, to find out where our shops and vacant buildings are, and what are the needs of people.
As luck would have it, or as fate would have it I guess, I ended up losing in 2015, and I got introduced to Ms. Mattie Butler of Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors (WECAN, a nonprofit centering the socioeconomic needs of Woodlawn; Butler died Feb. 2, 2023). In 2015, Ms. Mattie asked the question: "What's happening in Woodlawn? We're seeing new people moving in, our seniors are slammed with property taxes that they can't afford, and it's not very clear."
Because of the work that I had done in Gary, Indianawe mapped the entire city of Gary, and that helped the mayor get a complete digital database of properties, and they could then go ahead and build on that datathe office of Civic Engagement at University of Chicago reached out to the Harris School and asked, "Can we help answer Ms. Mattie's question of what's going on with housing?"
So we mapped with the residents. We took in all the similar concernswhat do you want to know about? What are your questions about housing?and mapped all the properties with them. We took in all of the properties' data that we could find. We took in census data and all of the reportsWoodlawn has had tons of data done on it. We read through all of research and were able to bring that back to the residents.
Vacant lots? Woodlawn had over a thousand. Twenty-seven percent of the neighborhood was either a vacant lot or a vacant building. But we know that hundreds of those properties are owned by the City of Chicago or the County, and there's something that the community can do with people, subject matter experts, with government officials, by talking together and getting work done.
After that, Mrs. Cecilia Butler of Washington Park said, "We need the same thing." Washington Park is where the (Obama Presidential Center) could have gone, and it's the entry-way from the expressway to Jackson Park. We worked with Washington Park Residents' Advocacy Coalition to do a similar study. Forty percent of Washington Park is vacant lotsthat has to do with housing policy and historic decisions, redlining, all of it. When Washington Park's results came out, the pandemic hit, so we didn't get to do as much advocacy. I don't feel like Washington Park got enough attention when they issued the recommendations.
The last two years, I've been working with the South Shore Compactthat's the Neighborhood Network Alliance, South Shore Works and the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, to do a similar study for South Shore. All of these groups had their questions.
We got the community together, walked every single block and answered the question, "What's on this property?" This project, the South Shore Data Initiative, wrapped in August, then Leslie Hairston announced that she is stepping down from her role. … There [now] needs to be a leader. There needs to be somebody to shape the transformative change. It's already here. We need somebody that is from the community, who is doing the work, that has talked with community, and centers community voices first. … I'm running to make sure that we get the housing resources that we need, and that we have a plan with residents' voices as part of the process.
WCT: You're bringing with you a huge resume of public policy work, which you've described here at length. How will this benefit two of an alderperson's key roles, connecting constituents with city services and engaging with other members of the City Council?
JH: With regards to constituent services, I think people often make the assumption that, north of 60th Street, everything's rosy and there are no real problems there. But you talk to residents and they say that certain houses on certain blocks are having issues. We know that there's a frat house nobody knows what to do with, for example. There are car-jackings all over the neighborhood. So safety is of primary importanceyou've got to be able to get your kids to school. I've met folks who are afraid to take their garbage out at night in Hyde Park.
I want to come back to the community first, and what I am committing to do, which I don't think anybody has committed to, is a ward precinct council. We'd have representatives from each of the precincts, who each have voting power on the issues that are impacting us. That's one of the things that I believe strongly in, and I believe in participatory budgeting.
As far as addressing everyday needs, I feel like there's a lot of places we can be doing better in terms of making sure our streets our paved…and that you can get around easily on our streets. They've got to be well-lit, and we've got to have streets that are passible and safe for young women 24/7.
I think there is such huge potential with the council right now, with 30% of it turning over. I think there is a lot of potential to do a lakefront coalition. All of the wards that are on the lakefront are facing similar issues, right? We all have to deal with erosion, Lake Shore Drive and high-rises that are very expensive to maintain. We need to have a collective of the wards from the North Side all the way down to the South Side.
Specifically, I would continue working with the aldermen from the 20th, 8th and 4th [Wards]. When we were talking about housing and Woodlawn's affordable housing preservation ordinance passed, it didn't include the neighboring communities. Our communities are not just boundarieseveryone crosses over everywhere. When people are priced out of Hyde Park, where are they looking? They're looking at Woodlawn. When they're getting priced out of Woodlawn, they're looking at South Shore and Washington Park. We need a regional plan, and that means working together, not just with elected officials, but the residents of these communities and subject-matter experts.
WCT: What other issues do you see as pertinent for the ward in the years ahead?
JH: For myself, and all of our queer youth who are down here on the South Side, we have to spend money, time and energy to get to the North Side to access the wealth of LGBTQ+ resources. It means spending money on an Uber or a train, and spending time. By bringing queer resources to the South Side, we can just step outside. It can be in our front yard. We already have strong institutions down here, like Affinity Community Services, Brave Space Alliance. Howard Brown is down here and Center on Halsted has a place in Woodlawn. Right now, these are all these very important efforts and initiatives, but how do we connect everyone together? How do we make sure that this health center, this community center that we're going to have on the South Side is meeting the needs of South Side queer folks?
That means being culturally competent. That means hiring Black and Brown people to be leading things. That means giving youth a say. I think the biggest barrier to that is not having a South Side alder whose priority it's been. That's my prioritymaking this ward safe for our most vulnerable residents. That's Black trans women in our community. One of the things we can do to improve the safety and the lives of our most vulnerable residents. That's what I'm focused on, and I'm committed to that. We've never had a better opportunity to bring resources down to the South Side right now.
WCT: How do you see COVID as having affected the ward?
JH: Oh, man. Everybody has been terrified at some moment in the last three years. We lost family members and folks we thought we'd see again. We've been separated from our loved ones, and a real sense of disconnection, and I see that everywhere.
Being isolated and being disconnected is what makes you lose hope. Bringing people together, personally, is what's given me strength. I have had a lot of difficulty in parts of the pandemic. It's been really difficult. I ended a relationship of eight years and the person moved out in February 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and I really learned what it was like to be solo.
What's given me life is young people, being connected with artists, being connected with housing folks down here. And being connected with people who haven't given up, despite the struggle of living a daily life in the city of Chicago.
There are a lot of basic needs that aren't being met, that we absolutely have the resources for. There is not reason we should have kids who are experiencing homelessness in our city. Absolutely not. No kids should be hungry. We have the resources.
See hareforfive.com .