It's she-said, she-said with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) about a plan to house hundreds of migrants bused to Chicago from Texas at the vacant Wadsworth Elementary School building in Woodlawn.
In an email to constituents on Monday, the alderwoman wrote that she learned at an Oct. 20 meeting with the mayor's office and the Department of Family and Support services that the city had identified the former Wadsworth building, 6420 S. University Ave., as a site to receive migrants.
That building has been unoccupied for years since the Chicago Public Schools Wadsworth and Dumas elementaries were combined in 2013 and the UChicago Charter School's Woodlawn campus vacated in 2017.
Taylor was also informed that Chicago Public Schools was working to provide the building with running water and heat, and that Lightfoot was asking for accommodations for 500 single women and men in the 20th Ward "for a couple of months."
Taylor wrote that she looked "for alternatives that will make this transition more comfortable for our new residents as well as our current residents" and said Spanish-speaking community organizations were helping her office "find housing where individuals will be closer to the services they provide and have more independence due to the ease of navigating their surrounding community.” She also admonished the mayor for lack of proper notice or request for community input.
On Oct. 25, however, the mayor's office announced that there are no plans to use Wadsworth as a temporary shelter. Lightfoot addressed the issue at her post-City Council meeting press conference the next day.
Since Aug. 31, more than 3,500 people have arrived in Chicago from Texas, as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) buses migrants out of state in protest of federal immigration policies. As it stands, the city has set up temporary housing accommodations in shelters and hotels, though Lightfoot said the shelter system is getting increasingly overwhelmed.
"The fact of the matter is that obviously since the first busload of migrants, we stepped up as we should, because we are a welcoming city. And we can't be a welcoming city in word only; we have to be that in deed," the mayor said during Wednesday’s press conference. "Obviously as the number of buses came, we worked feverishly — around-the-clock in many instances — to make sure that we had adequate facilities to accommodate the residents who were coming from the border to our city.
According to WTTW, on Friday, Oct. 24, Lightfoot began asking alderpeople to identify “vacant warehouses or big box stores that could shelter between 500 and 1,000 people.”
"As part of that process, we identified opportunities across our city to open up additional housing and support options, and we looked at a number of spaces, one of which was a closed school in Ald. Taylor's ward,” Lightfoot said. “That's where it is: we looked, we evaluated it, we conferred with her and conferred with community members. I'm hoping, frankly, that we will continue to see no more buses coming to our city, but we're going to continue to work hard and make sure that we support the migrants."
Though Wadsworth is set to remain empty, the proposal stirred up strife and frustration in a neighborhood that has been in a years-long struggle with the city to preserve affordable housing.
"We acknowledge the irony of the mayor rushing to create housing in the same community where we have had to struggle with her to meet the urgent call for support from residents that are being displaced due to rising rents and property taxes," Taylor wrote in her statement on Monday. “Throughout our push for the Woodlawn Housing Ordinance, the mayor and the Department of Housing attempted to convince us that the city did not have the resources to meet the need for deeply affordable housing with vacant land and properties."