The Continuing Threat of Gentrification on The Northwest Side of Chicago

Portage Park, a neighborhood in Northwest Chicago, faces the possibility of gentrification like so much of the city. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

by Torger Lind

I live on the intersection of Laramie and Irving Park, on the northwest side of Chicago, in the surprisingly large — and surprisingly forgettable — neighborhood of Portage Park. I live equidistant from the park from which the neighborhood takes its name, and Six Corners, a once bustling and thriving commercial district.

Currently, though, three of the eponymous six corners are empty and / or torn down to the foundation. The fall of Portage Park and its bustling six corners is an article for another time, though. This article is about the growing Latinx community in Portage Park, and the subsequent dangers to this community that are brought about through gentrification.

If you drive drive farther south on Milwaukee Avenue, you’ll find the incredibly gentrified Logan Square; farther down still, there’s Wicker Park. In the not-so-distant past, these neighborhoods were made up largely of a Latinx population, but due to rising costs of housing, many people were, and are still being displaced. In communities like Logan Square, Pilsen and Avondale, Latinx population has fallen by about 14,000 people since 2010, according to a report from Chicago’s WBEZ.

In communities on the northwest side such as Belmont Cragin, Dunning, and Portage Park, meanwhile, Latinx population has grown by more than 6,000. Increased housing costs in Logan Square have started to creep their way up Milwaukee Avenue, putting even these new communities at “moderate risk for displacement” according to journalist Natalie Moore.

To preserve these communities, Julio Rodriguez, a housing community organizer on the northwest side, said that affordable housing may be the solution. He said that many of these families are cost-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing, and that an operation that buys properties to then be sold at a lower-than-market price to suit a families’ incomes would be ideal for these communities. 

Some areas of the northwest side have met propositions of affordable housing projects with fierce opposition, though. When 45th Ward Alderman John Arena and representatives from Full Circle Communities proposed a 100-unit building that would house low-income families along with veterans and disabled people, a large gathering of mostly white Jefferson Park residents protested. They likened the idea to projects like the bygone Cabrini Green housing project, and used rhetoric akin to the 1960s white protestors rioting over the integration of Little Rock, Arkansas following the federal desegregation of schools. Many of their statements are built upon belief that the people inhabiting the project would be inherently dangerous or undesirable on the grounds of their race and economic class.

But Full Circle has succeeded in the creation of affordable housing in the past. Locations like 2611 North Sawyer and Milwaukee Avenue Apartments have allowed for communities to avoid being pushed out of their neighborhoods. There is a false belief among protestors that the housing project might attract unwanted vagrants as opposed to engaged community members. These housing projects would be built with the express purpose of providing homes for people already living in the area who would otherwise be forced out.

The background checks are thorough, with every possible tenant over the age of 18 undergoing an extensive interview as well as a screening of misdemeanors related to drugs, weapons, property damage, and sexual offenses. Full Circle emphasized that these screenings are vital to them and their process and they are sensitive given that their goals are to support families and those with disabilities.

Despite whatever rhetoric bigoted white protestors might use, affordable housing has already proven to work to protect communities on the northwest side. Rodriguez would agree that the sooner northwest Chicago can provide housing for its rent-burdened and already displaced Latinx community the better, and there is no better location for such a project than one of Six Corners’ vacant three.

The beating heart of the neighborhood could use an injection of the people that have found refuge within it.

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