People asking the City of Chicago to promote segregation object to being called bigots

Update: Amazingly, within just a few hours of my posting this, 47th ward alderman Ameya Pawar tweeted this:

Who’s next?


This part of a recent community meeting about an apartment development in the West Loop, as reported by DNAinfo, was pretty standard:

On Tuesday night, resident Mike Samson, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, said that his neighbors are very concerned about the “stampede” of rental buildings being developed in the neighborhood. “Rental buildings tend to attract people who come and go quite quickly. The turnover is rapid. They don’t help to stabilize the neighborhood,” Samson said. “They don’t contribute in the long term to the neighborhood. Owners contribute in the long term to the neighborhood.”

Asking for new buildings to be owner-occupied, rather than rental, is one of the most popular ways for people to use the power of government to manipulate who their neighbors will be. On average, owners will be people with better-paying and more stable jobs, and greater wealth, than renters. Insisting on owner-occupied housing, then, is a way of asking for a richer, more income-segregated neighborhood. And in a city like Chicago – in pretty much any American city, actually – asking for a richer, more income-segregated neighborhood almost always means asking for a whiter, more racially-segregated neighborhood by proxy. Most of the time, aldermen accede to these demands as if they were perfectly reasonable. But Walter Burnett – whose 27th ward this project falls in – well, bless him:

After fielding complaints about new rental developments in the West Loop for months, one alderman has a new word to describe neighbors’ opposition to renters: “discrimination.” …

“It’s going to have to be a mixed neighborhood,” [said Burnett.] “Don’t no one group own no neighborhood in the City of Chicago. This is America.”

In addition to slapping down the idea that bashing renters – who make up 55% of all Chicagoans, by the way – is a normal, non-discriminatory thing to do, Burnett also announced that new developments would have to meet the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance by building their affordable units on site, rather than paying into a fund to build them somewhere else – usually somewhere poorer.

But, unsurprisingly, the people who lobbied for pro-segregation policies believe that having to listen to criticism of those pro-segregation policies makes them victims, rather than, say, the people who are being segregated out of safe, amenity-rich neighborhoods. In that, they are following proudly in the tradition of earlier American segregationists.

A 15-year resident who lives near Mary Bartelme Park said that neighbors aren’t discriminating against renters. They just want to protect what they’ve built, she said. “I think we want to create our home and keep it that way and I really resent everyone calling us bigots because we want owners [in the neighborhood],” the woman said.

To which I would say that life is full of choices, and one of them is that you can either ask the government to block lower-income people from living in your neighborhood, or you can enjoy not being considered a bigot. But you cannot always, thankfully, do both. I’m just hoping Chicago’s other aldermen are paying attention to Walter Burnett.

10 thoughts on “People asking the City of Chicago to promote segregation object to being called bigots

  1. Okay I have to jump in with my two cents:

    Look the word bigot is clearly inflammatory language. You can argue that the residents started it, but in my opinion this (while perhaps inaccurate and unwelcoming) does not amount to bigotry: “Rental buildings tend to attract people who come and go quite quickly. The turnover is rapid. They don’t help to stabilize the neighborhood,” Samson said. “They don’t contribute in the long term to the neighborhood. Owners contribute in the long term to the neighborhood.”

    Also this is about the permit for a high rise apartment building on top of the Green Line Morgan stop immediately adjacent to the BOOMING Fulton Market restaurant corridor. Google is building their new office ONE BLOCK from this site. The rents in this building will be WAAAAYYY above middle class attainability (except for the 10% IZ units).

    It is completely illogical to call “owners don’t want renters” in this situation racist (by indirect income discrimination). It actually won’t be income discrimination at all given the market rents, it will be WEALTH discrimination (against rich people w/out a down payment for a mortgage) or against those simply choosing not to make the longer/larger economic commitment to purchase.

    If anything it is AGE-ist. The current residents clearly fear that yuppy millenials will take over in droves and turn the community into even more of a nightlife district.

    Disagreeing with their view and opposing their request is a perfectly reasonable position to have (and the correct one in my view). I applaud the alderman for standing up for renters, but the choice of the word bigot is unfortunate rhetoric, and trying to cram this particular situation into a racial narrative is a square peg in a round hole.

    1. Being a bigot doesn’t just mean being prejudiced against black people. It applies to anything.

      adjective: bigoted

      having or revealing an obstinate belief in the superiority of one’s own opinions and a prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others.
      utterly intolerant of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.
      “a bigoted group of reactionaries”
      synonyms: prejudiced, biased, partial, one-sided, sectarian, discriminatory;

      So wealth discrimination, ageism, anti-hipsterism, that’s all bigotry too. Besides, Daniel made the exact point that preferencing owners versus renters or wealthy versus poor is a de facto preference for white over black or hispanic, whether deliberate or not.

  2. bigot may have been a poor choice in words, but discriminating against rentors, be they rich rentors or poor renters is a favorite passtime at any development meeting. As DKH said above, renters make up 55% of Chicago. And saying that owners stick around longer doesn’t pay attention to the turnover rate of most owned homes in Chicago either.

  3. 1. I understand that bigoted does not necessarily apply to race.

    2. While it does technically fit the definition of the word (preference for one group over the other, yes; although I think the “prejudiced intolerance” part was not that strong), I still maintain that “bigot” is inflammatory language that was not constructive to the debate.

    3. “Daniel made the exact point that preferencing owners versus renters or wealthy versus poor is a de facto preference for white over black or hispanic, whether deliberate or not.”

    While I respect Daniel very much, I think that this: “And in a city like Chicago – in pretty much any American city, actually – asking for a richer, more income-segregated neighborhood almost always means asking for a whiter, more racially-segregated neighborhood by proxy.” Inserts racial causation into a “rich vs poor” debate where it is more or less irrelevant.

    4. Further, the point I was trying to make was that in this situation, owners vs renters is not even a “rich (incumbent owners) vs poor (new renters)” discrimination situation because most of these renters will be “rich” by any reasonable income-based definition.

    In my view, the West Loop situation is actually very analogous to some of the anti-gentrification sentiment from existing residents in Humboldt Park / Logan Square, ironically a “poor incumbent” vs “rich new renters and home owners” clash. While people disagreed with some of the anti-development rhetoric coming from that area, I didn’t hear anyone calling residents bigoted against rich/young/white people. Yet the complaints are virtually the same.

  4. Also given the proximity of the new Google office one can draw parallels between the West Loop and the situation in San Francisco, which again is a story of poorer incumbents being displaced by the tech elite (whether they be millionaire start up founders or 100k salary earning software engineers, disproportionately young, white and rich), so we have both wealthier and poorer neighborhood protectionists.

  5. They are also having this debate in North Center right now. And similar rhetoric was used with the Logan Square debates. The language is really absurd. Renters spend money in the neighborhoods and they expose their whole social circle to eateries, shopping, bars in the area. The thing that makes me laugh is that single family homes are a perfect place for young people to throw house parties, yet homeowners are much more irritated when people try to build high rise studio and 1 bed apartment complexes.

    The funny thing is that young people are getting throttled by high rents and it is eating into their ability to save to become home owners with stability. Landlords have such high demand for their units that even run down units are really expensive. Home owners protesting all dense development plays into this low supply.

    My other thought is that, yes these new places are expensive. But aren’t the prices going to lower in the future as other new shiny developments pop up? There are a fair amount of cheaper high rise buildings near the lake in Edgewater, and I imagine they were fancy and new decades ago.

  6. I am a homeowner who lives in the West Loop. I agree that the language of owner vs. renter does carry some veiled racism, or at the very least, some classist biases. It makes me very uncomfortable, but it’s not surprising. 90% of the residents here either grew up in the ‘burbs (or Wisconsin/Michigan/Iowa) or have moved from there to have their empty nest home.

    I have no issues with rentals n the West Loop. I want to see more density (a word that makes many WL’s shriek and run for the hills.)

    But they are not even remotely affordable here. Seven years ago, when we first moved here, a two bedroom (roughly 1500 sqf) cost us around $2500. There are 1000 sqf apartments in this area now going for nearly FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS. This is an insane boom. I’d actually like to see a true mix of housing options at various income levels.

    I have concerns about new buildings, but it has nothing to do with rent vs buy or any BS people put forth about “investing in one’s neighborhood.” I want good, solid, thoughtful and sustainable planning, and it’s not happening.

    There is no grand plan, for example, for how to grow commercial areas on Randolph. There’s often fights about parking, and any of us who raise the issue are accused of wanting the WL to be Naperville. I would ***love*** it if people took transit or used their bikes to get here, but I can tell you that right now, it’s not happening. We are beyond capacity many evenings with parking as it is. It’s not people who are coming from three train stops away to go to Girl & the Goat or the Soho Hotel, it’s a party of six from Naperville, four of who brought their own car. I would love to see a large parking area at the west end of Randolph and a trolley that circles around Randolph all night to serve that need, but unless that happens, our streets will continue to be cars that are double and tripled parked.

    The alderman who oversees most of WL is most concerned with either (a) accepting big donations from developers to open the gates or (b) putting the faces of he and his wife on every bench in the ward. We’ve asked for permit only parking on some side streets or some sort of enforcement of existing regulation and laws and he’s profoundly uninterested in speaking to anyone who isn’t writing him a check.

    We need a plan to minimize conflicts between commercial zoning and residential areas. There are conflicts now with Soho/Parlor and the residences around them that will only continue if these conversations don’t happen.

    I kind of want the world to slow down for a bit and get PLANNING on the books. Something where all stakeholders have input, something thoughtful, something sustainable. That’s MY only objection to anything right now. Take a deep breath and let’s do this, but let’s do it RIGHT and in a way that works for EVERYONE.

    1. I’m totally on board with you about the need for comprehensive planning. We don’t do it in the West Loop; we don’t really do it anywhere. It’s one of the city’s biggest failures, and it leads to acrimonious, ad-hoc decision-making that’s too easily hijacked by small groups on both sides.

      But I think you’re underestimating the difficulty of the parking situation. Leaving aside the issue of transportation priorities for a second, just from a planning point of view, the West Loop is never going to have “enough” parking in the sense that it will be relatively easy and convenient to find it – especially during the evenings when people are going out on Randolph and the surrounding entertainment district. There are simply too many residents, and far too many people who want to be there on a Thursday or Saturday night, and far too little space. I know this is an obnoxious-sounding thing to say, but it’s really a math question: to accommodate the demand for all the people who would rather drive than take transit or bike, assuming they could find parking, you would have to demolish blocks upon blocks of buildings and replace them with truly massive parking garages. And even then, you’d probably have to set parking prices high enough that people would complain about that.

      Of course it’s true that you see cars everywhere. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t taking transit or biking: you also see cars everywhere in Manhattan, where the majority of people don’t even own one. It’s just that in economically successful, relatively dense places, the demand for car transportation will pretty much always fill up whatever space is available. Everyone else will use an alternative. In my view, it makes much more sense to expand the availability and quality of those alternatives than to seek to replace the things that make the West Loop an interesting place – and that generate jobs and tax revenue for the city – with multi-story parking garages.

      Another way of thinking of it: Can you think of a single place with the resident and destination density of the West Loop where parking is convenient and cheap? I definitely cannot. It’s just not really compatible with the land use that already exists there.

      That said, again, the West Loop, like the rest of the city, desperately needs a real comprehensive plan to deal with what land use issues exist.

  7. Thanks for the reply, Daniel. I don’t think we’re too far apart in what we’re saying.

    I do NOT want cheap and comvenient/plentiful parking in the WL. I’m not interested in the suburban model (plentiful parking three inches from your destination). Despite the unpleasantness of the parking meter deal, I wish they would meter ALL our streets. (We’ve all but begged for permit parking but have been declined.)

    I do wish for a garage, though I know it’s unlikely to happen with the parking meter deal. It’s unlikely to happen for a host of reasons, but NOW seems like a great time to consider one, as the WL is still building infrastructure (and as land west of Morgan is still somewhat open).

    The problem in the WL right now is that we have almost no plan for parking, as we have no plan for anything else. Many of the non-arterial streets are free (cost), so we have many non-residents parking their cars here for days. I live in a building with a parking garage, but I can’t tell you how many times we’ve opened that parking garage door only to find a parked car blocking the easement (it’s over 100 times, for sure), and we aren’t the only building where it happens. There are few posted parking rules and enforcement of any existing rules is lax, at best. (Since the district police station at Monroe/Racine closed in consolidation, police response has suffered – another topic in itself.)

    I agree with everything you said and expect the density. I just think there’s a way to get to it with less chaos. And to return to the original point, I think it has to at least be a consideration when new residential buildings — rental or sale — are being built. We are throwing more people into the ring to compete for these spaces.

    Anyway, as I said, I think we’re at least reading the same chapter, if not on the same page. Your first paragraph really nicely sums up my frustration about the process and about the lack of planning in so many places and spaces around the city (as well as a lack of metropolitan cooperation and/or planning).

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