Despite being raised in Hawaii, former President Barack Obama has long touted his connections to Chicago and chose to build a sprawling complex in the city.
Yet despite claims that the sprawling 19-acre Obama Presidential Center will be a boon to local people, some say it will force them from their homes.
Center billed as being “an embodiment of hope”
According to its website, the center will serve as “an embodiment of hope” and “explore the fullness of the American story.”
However, local resident and South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition chair Kiara Hardin told The Guardian this week that Obama’s facility has made the area far too expensive.
“Ultimately I had to move because I couldn’t afford it,” Hardin explained. “That’s literally my check. Who wants to spend all of their money to live?”
Hardin is not alone in complaining that her finances have been stretched, as 74-year-old Linda Jennings said her tax bill has ballooned.
Area residents have above-average rates of eviction
A retired nurse, Jennings told the Guardian that the upswing in taxes has not been accompanied by a commensurate rise in her property’s value.
“Because the neighborhoods are predominantly African American, their property values are always less than the rest of the city because of redlining. That hasn’t changed,” Jennings noted.
Not Me We is a community mutual aid organization that is part of the CBA Coalition. Its executive director is Dixon Romeo, and he was quoted as saying that the Obama Presidential Center will “exacerbate and accelerate” problems that neighborhood residents already face.
This includes eviction, with a 2019 Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing study showing that South Shore residents are turned out of their homes at a rate three times Chicago’s average.
Obama downplayed potential for problems
Meanwhile, another 2019 study was conducted by the Voorhees Center and it focused on a two-mile radius surrounding the Obama Presidential Center.
The study “found clear evidence of rising rents in newly renovated and new construction units, which the majority of current renters cannot afford.” Interestingly, Obama downplayed concerns connected to his center when he spoke about the project in 2018.
“We’ve got such a long way to go in terms of economic development before you’re even going to start seeing the prospect of significant gentrification,” the Guardian quoted Obama as saying.
“Malia’s kids might have to worry about that. Right now, what we’ve got to worry about is you have broken curbs, and trash and boarded-up buildings, and that’s really what we need to work on,” he insisted.