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Gentrifiers Latest Attack: Affordable Housing in Humboldt Park

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In May it was announced that Alderman Maldonado and the CEO of Hispanic Housing, Paul Roldán, were moving forward with the building of a new 9-Story Affordable Housing Complex.  This complex is part of Hispanic Housing Development Corporation’s “Preserving Paseo Boricua” development strategy, which is working to bring affordable housing to our community so that longtime residents can afford to continue living in the community they have called home for generations.

Immediately after it was announced that the plan for the affordable housing complex was moving forward, a Block Club Chicago article came out centering the voices and discontent of a group who calls themselves the ”East Humboldt Park Neighborhood Association”. According to the article this group “opposes the project because of the lack of community involvement in the decision making process and because they think the building is too tall for the area”.  However, this article fails to mention the fact that this affordable housing complex plan came out of a mandate given to community leaders.  This mandate was articulated in a summit sponsored by the Puerto Rican Agenda at Chi Arts High School with the participation of nearly 300 community members and community organizations including: LUCHA, Hispanic Housing, Casa Norte, Bickerdike, The Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and Association House.  The fact that this ”East Humboldt Park Neighborhood Association” went to the press about how upset they were about a lack of community involvement in the decision making process, while completely disregarding the fact that community members came together to mandate this affordable housing complex, makes it pretty clear that the way the ”East Humboldt Park Neighborhood Association” defines their community is exclusive of their neighbors who support affordable housing.

This ”East Humboldt Park Neighborhood Association” describes themselves on their facebook page as “a diverse neighborhood on Chicago’s west side that is bordered by North Avenue, Western, Division Street, and California.”  As someone whose family, according to their partitioning, has lived in so-called “East Humboldt Park” for over five decades, I was shocked and disturbed by this neighborhood association’s blatant disregard for the lives and well being of their neighbors who are being priced out of the community.  

However, the East Humboldt Park Neighborhood Association’s response to this affordable housing complex is more than an isolated act of ignorance and selfishness.  Their response speaks to the systemic violence our community has faced in the battle to survive against colonialism, capitalism, and White-Supremacy.  When a representative of the ”East Humboldt Park Neighborhood Association” by the name of Max Collopy is quoted saying “The adjacent buildings are either one story or four stories. There’s no building within the vicinity that’s nine stories, let alone facing the park”, he is not just saying that the view he is able to see from the park is more important to him than families having access to housing, he is acting from an awareness that we live in a world that values the voices of people who can afford housing over people who cannot.

Moreover, we cannot take this response by ”East Humboldt Park Neighborhood Association” to an affordable housing complex out of the context in which it was made.  Firstly, the area that the ”East Humboldt Park Neighborhood Association” has partitioned as ‘their’ neighborhood is one of the areas in Greater Humboldt Park that has experienced some of the worst gentrification and price hikes.  Additionally, the Hispanic Housing Development Corp’s “Preserving Paseo Boricua” development strategy comes out of an acknowledgement of the decades of gentrification Puerto Ricans, specifically, have struggled against in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, River North, and now Humboldt Park.  The struggle to find affordable housing has become central to the story of Puerto Ricans in Chicago, but the ways in which people have attempted to dispossess us from our housing hasn’t only been through Block Club Chicago articles. If you walk to the corner of Rockwell and LeMoyne in so-called “East Humboldt Park” you will see a mural depicting a Brown woman calling for help from a burning building, there are hands breaking chains, and on one of the chains it says “Housing is Still the Issue”.  This mural is referencing the many Puerto Rican families we lost in Humboldt Park, because their landlords were conducting arson for profit.  Arson for profit was an attack on the lives of our community members who were viewed as worthless by more wealthy landlords.  This article in Block Club Chicago is an attack on our community members whose lives are seen as worthless by more wealthy neighbors who do not have a need for affordable housing.
It is incredibly dangerous to view this article and attack on the Hispanic Housing affordable housing complex as an isolated incident.  My family and all Puerto Rican families in this community are here as a direct consequence of settler colonialism.  Humboldt Park’s existence is a direct result of the process of settler colonialism during which French and British settlers violently disappeared, murdered, and dispossessed Indigenous Bodéwadmiakiwen, Kiikaapoi, Myaamia, Ochéthi Sakówin, and Peoria people.  Similarly the Puerto Rican community is in Humboldt Park because of the same disgusting process of settler colonialism, because the United States, as a settler colonial nation-state, also operates as an empire utilizing external forms of colonization. The invasion and economic devastation of Puerto Rico by the U.S. forced the spatial deconcentration of dispossessed Puerto Ricans, like my grandparents, lured by the hope of low-wage employment to abandon their homes and family to occupy and settle on seized Indigenous land.  The gentrifiers of Humboldt Park’s actions are informed by this gruesome legacy of settler colonialism with their latest attempt at dispossessing their low income neighbors of the only housing many of us can afford, and disappearing the culture/community we have cultivated out of necessity for generations replacing it with “co-living” apartment complexes geared towards millennials”.

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