Forum

Candidates for 5th Ward Alderman participate in a forum at Hyde Park Union Church 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave., on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023.

Fifth Ward aldermanic candidates have differing housing and development proposals, but the 10 who showed up to a Sunday, Jan. 15 forum agreed that trees in Jackson and South Shore Park should stop getting cut down.

But much more of the debate at the forum, organized by the group Save Jackson Park and held at Hyde Park Union Church 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave., focused on homeownership, protections for renters, reparations for Black residents and development.

Economic development and housing affordability in the 5th Ward have long been concerns for constituents. But as investors buy more property around Jackson Park, especially in South Shore, gentrification worries have soared.

Tina Hone, a former chief engagement officer for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, suggested that one means of combating displacement in South Shore is to make it easier for renters to become homeowners.

"The reason that people in South Shore are so vulnerable is because 77% of them are renters. The way that you free yourself from an unethical landlord is to not have to have a landlord," she said, suggesting more no-down-payment programs and more amenable mortgage-repayment programs.

Down the forum’s table, Gabriel Piemonte, a former Herald editor, countered that the solution to bad landlords isn't to buy a house: "The solution to bad landlords is criminal prosecution, or maybe it's a civil suit. But one way or another, the problem is the landlord, not that you're a renter and you need to do better."

He continued that economic development cannot happen without displacement and that policies should therefore be oriented around closing the racial wealth gap.

That would include things like the South Side Community Federal Credit Union he helped found, and he suggested investing in financial cooperatives, perhaps by temporarily putting municipal funds in them to spur investment. He also called for a city-wide evictions moratorium, adding that it could be accomplished locally through "individual interventions."

Kris Levy, a South Shore wine and spirits distributor, and Hone both went on the attack against Piemonte, criticizing his outspoken support for reparations for Black Americans.

Hone called reparations "the ultimate economic enfranchisement," but questioned its feasibility. "It's easy to say 'I'm going to fight for reparations.' Tell me how you're actually going to get there," she said. "It's easy to say stuff, and it is way harder to talk about how you're actually going to get it done."

She also accused Piemonte, who is white, of trying to “out-Black everybody Black.”

Renita Q. Ward, an attorney, defended Piemonte, saying, "If we look at the redistribution of wealth and we take into account systematic racism in this country, it is most-appropriate that Mr. Piemonte be the first and foremost to be talking about reparations and the redistribution of wealth from those that it was taken from."

Ward went on to say that the panel's discussions around wages, affordable housing and small business support are "all conversations that talk about putting liquid assets in the hands of people who need them the most" and that the next alderperson would have to realize that support into reality.

Other candidates stuck to their own backgrounds and platforms.

Adrienne Irmer, a commissioner of the South Shore Special Service Area, said her first priority in office would be to foster inter-ward dialogue with other alderpersons whose wards cover specific community areas; she noted that Hyde Park and South Shore will be covered by three wards and that six wards divide Englewood.

"That is how you divide and dilute the power of a community and bleed it of resources, and leave it vulnerable to real estate speculators to fundamentally change the fabric of that community," she said. She proposed creating a comprehensive development plan for South Shore with the alderpersons of the 7th and 8th wards alongside similar plans for Greater Grand Crossing and Woodlawn.

Desmon Yancy, a South Shore police accountability activist, noted that renters and homeowners alike deal with bad banks, unethical developers and house-flippers.

He suggested that there be pathways to ownership through things like low-interest loans and mortgage assistance, alongside ordinances that prevent landlords from evicting tenants for any reason besides nonpayment of rent. He also suggested working with community-development corporations that do things like buy vacant properties for people to develop.

Yancy also pointed to his past minimum wage activism and said he supports a $25 minimum wage and an increase for tipped workers' wages, saying, "We can increase the money that people are bringing home so that there is more money at the end of the month than there is month." He also supports employer tax credits for hiring formerly incarcerated people.

Levy said South Shore needs rent and property tax protections for its renters and homeowners as well as long-term subsidies to prevent eviction or mortgages. He also wants a trade school and business corridor in the neighborhood. He also advocated for the Obama Foundation to sign a community benefits agreement (CBA) for South Shore.

Hone said every community in the ward has opportunities; in South Shore, she said "on-the-precipice" 71st Street needs parking. She proposed enlisting recently out-of-incarceration people to clean streets early in the morning, saying, "You can't build a destination if it's filthy, and 71st Street right now is filthy."

Wallace Goode, former head of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, called for a comprehensive "Marshall Plan" for the ward targeting all affordable housing, violence and the wealth gap at once. He noted that his campaign is based around economic development, education, the environment, youth engagement, health care access and criminally targeting of gun-runners.

Marlene Fisher, a cybersecurity administrator, said people should be asked why they do not want to become homeowners and that Section 8 voucher-holders should be made to take financial literacy programs and housing simulations as a requirement of the program.

She recalled realizing as a tenant that her $800 rent was akin to a mortgage payment. So she sacrificed: "Sometimes, you've just got to pull up our pants and do it. We've got to go without. We've got to save our money, build our credit so that we can afford to buy houses. I'm not going to make excuses; everyone can do it."

Jocelyn Hare, who works for the U. of C.’s Harris School of Public Policy, said her experience as "a mixed-race queer girl" made her "understand what it's like to be unseen, be unheard, to be exposed to violence and trauma at a very young age without the support and resources I needed."

"Too many folks feel this way. You need somebody who understands these impacts," she said.

And Dee Perkins, a corporate tax auditor, said she is already a community resource for people who need public and private social assistance. "I'm not a community activist; people just feel comfortable with me, and they know that I get things done," she said.

Candidates Joshua Gray and Robert Palmer did not attend.

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