I, the LORD, have called you for justice, I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you as a covenant for the people — ISAIAH 42:6
The first reading from Mass on Sunday January 10th at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Phoenix certainly was relevant to numerous politicians. I was there because I was attending the 25th Anniversary Gathering for the Technology of Participation (ToP)® which draws upon decades of worldwide community development experience of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA). It was good to meet in person with ToP Network leaders, trainers and facilitators.
A workshop I co-facilitated on using ToP as a tool for climate change action sparked interest for on-going dialogue. A small group discussion on faith-based outreach shared the interesting use of ToP methods with the Muslim Reform Movement. The ToP Champion Award to the Maricopa Public Health Department demonstrated how the process can enhance government’s ability to serve their constituents.
Enabling government to be a covenant for people was certainly an aspiration for Dr. King. I again joined 100 parishioners of our church Old St. Pat’s to attend this year’s Faith in Action Assembly on January 18th for Martin Luther King Day. Over 1,500 people from Community Renewal Society’s congregations and neighborhood organizations filled First Baptist Congregational Church on Chicago’s near west side.
To address Chicago’s new refrain of “16 Shots & a Cover-Up” from an African-American teenager being killed by a white police officer, an effort has been launched to create the Chicago FAIR COPS (Freedom through Accountability, Investigation and Reform for Community Oversight of Policing Services) Ordinance, which would create an Office of Police Auditor in Chicago. The Assembly won commitments that morning from 19 city and state elected officials to improve police accountability, enact fair tax reform, and increase job opportunities for people with criminal records.
Rev. Eddie Knox, Jr., the pastor of Pullman Presbyterian Church and Board President of Community Renewal Society stressed:
“When black and brown people are constantly at risk from police violence, when our communities are destroyed by economic injustice, we must stand up and demand commitment to real action now!”
For those politicians who did not attend, we prayed: “May God transform your heart and bend your mind toward justice.”
Such prayers were certainly needed at the January 21st hearing of the Chicago Plan Commission. A proposed amendment was submitted by Montrose Clarendon Partners, LLC for land purchased from the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in order to demolish the vacant Cuneo Hospital and construct two new high-rises of luxury apartments; one with 381 units and a second with 250 units. Total number of affordable units to be provided on site? Only 20.
Yet, the City of Chicago has approved a $15.9 million TIF subsidy for these luxury apartments. The developer has only promised to contribute $4.6 million to help renovate the Clarendon Park Community Center across the street and $5.7 million to Chicago’s Low-Income Housing Trust Fund but not to be spent in Uptown.
That’s a major net profit for the developer since the project is being rushed for final approval before more stringent affordable housing requirements become effective later this year. According to my calculations, the new Affordable Ordinance would require this project to provide 158 affordable units on site (25%). Even if they were allowed to buy their way out of affordable units on site and given credit for the park donation, I calculate that the developer would need to contribute an additional $6.9 million to the Low-Income Trust Fund.
ICA’s Program Director, Seva Gandhi, testified and asked that the project be put on hold until there is actual community representation at the table, the proper studies take place, and funds are allocated to increase broader community engagement for this particular planning process.
“This proposed Montrose-Clarendon development will overshadow a wonderful park, will create a greater divide between the have and have-nots in Uptown, and is not responsive to the need Uptown currently has… for affordable housing that is already not being met, and will continue to be exacerbated if it is ignored and development without understanding the needs of the community it serves continues this way.”
Seva had also attended the last community meeting and noted: “as a community engagement specialist and facilitator I can say those meetings only took into account the voices of individuals who have one particular vision for Uptown; each meeting was met with more community members opposing the project than wanting it; however it was those who were in favor of the project that had a vote…. The process gave power to block club leaders and experts who, despite having been carefully selected to represent diverse interests, were not accessible or accountable to the community members they were supposed to represent. ICA, a large community stakeholder in Uptown for over 40 years, did not have a vote in the community zoning and development group that approved this proposal.”
In Paragraph 93 of his ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’, Pope FRANCIS reminds us:
“The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.”
He goes on to quote Saint John Paul II: “there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them…. it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few.”
Luxury apartments in Chicago’s most racially and economically diverse community is a legacy that the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart should not accept as meeting the aspirations of Pope Francis and Saint John Paul II.