South Side Coalition Advances Community Benefits Agreement in Meeting with Barack Obama Foundation

For immediate release
March 16, 2017
 
CHICAGO – South Side leaders seeking a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the planned $500 million presidential library of Barack Obama in Jackson Park met last week with representatives of the Barack Obama Foundation to share concerns and press for the protection of local jobs, affordable housing, education and economic investment.
 
Michelle Williams of Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), a founding member of the Obama Library South Side CBA Coalition, said:
 
“While the Foundation has not yet agreed to sign an agreement, we are encouraged to see them engaging with the community and providing some transparency and accountability in this process. President Obama’s heart is genuine and he cares about our community.  But I have been uprooted by urban renewal in the past, and I just want to stay in my home now.”
 
Ms. Williams lives at Island Terrace Apartments, a large rental property across the street from the planned site of the Barack Obama Presidential Center, and she and her fellow residents are concerned that Woodlawn seniors and limited-income families will lose affordable housing once the presidential library comes in if protections are not put in place. “This is a make-or-break moment for us in Woodlawn,” Ms. Williams said. 
 
On March 8, Coalition representatives met with the Obama Foundation’s Vice President of Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis and with Melody Spann Cooper, Co-Chair for the Foundation’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. Strautmanis and Spann Cooper shared information about planned community and neighbor involvement and educational programs as well as their requirements for minority contracting for the development project, which is expected to break ground in late 2018.

Naomi Davis of Blacks in Green is a founding member of the Bronzeville Regional Collective (BRC), a long-time advocate for community benefits agreements, and a specialist in development without displacement. She said:

“We’re happy to have been asked by the Obama Foundation for strategies to prevent displacement.  Today’s extreme racial wealth disparity is the result of targeted disinvestment in South Side communities and we have an opportunity to level the playing field by partnering with the Presidential Center.  We’re very encouraged that the Obama Foundation is receptive to our ideas and look forward to working with them,” said Ms. Davis.

The Coalition has been advocating for a CBA, or a legally enforceable contract, that would require the Obama Foundation to follow a set of principles developed through numerous town hall meetings that include setting aside jobs for Woodlawn residents, youth and formerly incarcerated people, guaranteeing a living wage for employees, partnering with local public schools to provide educational programming and free admission for students, and improving nearby public transportation.
 
"We were pleased to share some of the community's concerns with the Obama Foundation and look forward to continued dialogue with them. We will continue to push for a process that supports hundreds of neighborhood residents who are developing a Community Benefits Agreement that protects the community and builds on President Obama's legacy,” said Jawanza Malone, Executive Director of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO).

In August of 2013, a study by the Anderson Economic Group on the potential economic impact of the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side found that the library construction is estimated to cost around $600 million, and could result in the creation of an estimated 1,900 permanent jobs. Surrounding neighborhoods could see $30 million in new food and retail development, which the report says could translate into as many as thirty restaurants, eleven stores, and a hotel.

Allegra Cira Fischer, an attorney with Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights providing legal assistance to the Coalition, said:
 
“The truth is that systematic discrimination against African-American residents and businesses of the South Side has left many community members wondering whether the Obama Presidential Center coming in will ultimately uproot and displace them. CBAs have proven to be an effective tool to democratize and spread the benefits of economic development to the entire community, and that’s why we will continue to advocate for this agreement.”
 
Community members interested in more information about the proposed Community Benefits Agreement are invited to attend a town hall meeting on Tuesday, April 18th at 6pm at Hyde Park Academy High School (6220 S. Stony Island Ave).

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Media Contacts:         
Devondrick Jeffers, Southside Together Organizing for Power
P: 773-414-4232 | E: dlcjeffers@gmail.com

Jawanza Malone, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization
P: 312-805-4326 | E: jawanza.bmalone@kocoonline.org

Naomi Davis, Bronzeville Regional Collective
P: 773-678-9541 | E: naomidavis@blacksingreen.org

Daphne McKee Xi, Prayer and Action Collective
P: 901-216-2138 | E: daphne.a.mckee@gmail.com

Timna Axel, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights

P: 847-212-0782 | E: taxel@clccrul.org