In South Chicago, a storied neighborhood finds itself at a crossroads as the construction of the Obama Presidential Center threatens the stability and affordability of this once tight-knit community. With median home prices doubling and rents soaring, long-standing residents are beginning to question if President Obama’s legacy monument truly has their best interests at heart.
One concerned South Chicago resident, in a conversation with the Washington Post, lamented:
“The Obama Center is not being built for Chicago. It’s being built for the world. …[And the people of the world] don’t want us here. So what do you think is going to happen?”
Furthermore, a community activist voiced the residents’ desire to prevent “Obama’s legacy marred by the displacement of thousands of Black families.”
The $500 million project has been trailed by housing advocates from the start, who have urged the city to enforce affordable housing measures in the surrounding area. This call for action was recently directed at Brandon Johnson, a Democratic candidate seeking to replace Mayor Lori Lightfoot. During a forum last month, worried residents inquired:
“Will our rents be raised?”
“Will we have to move?”
“Some of us have lived here for more than 40 years,” added another resident.
Obama, present at the groundbreaking event, expressed his motivation for constructing the library in South Chicago. He stated, “It feels natural for Michelle and me to want to give back to Chicago and to the South Side in particular. The Obama Presidential Center is our way of repaying some of what this amazing city has given us.”
To assuage the concerns of protesters, the Obama Foundation has actively engaged with activists. The Center’s proponents estimate that it will bring $3.1 billion in economic development to the neighborhood throughout its construction and over the subsequent decade, in addition to generating an indirect $16.5 million in state and local tax revenue.
Nonetheless, South Chicago’s challenges predate the Obama Presidential Center. In 2019, the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing named Chicago’s south side as the worst for eviction filings. Furthermore, higher vacancy rates have spurred developers to buy, renovate, and sell properties to more affluent buyers, further exacerbating the issue.
We emphasize the importance of individual property rights and free-market principles. However, we must balance these values with compassion and understanding for those affected by development projects like the Obama Presidential Center.
This situation offers an opportunity to examine the responsibilities of public officials, community leaders, and developers in preserving the interests of long-standing residents. Development projects, particularly those celebrating the legacy of a president who championed the cause of underprivileged communities, should not inadvertently displace the very people they are meant to serve.