South Side Activists Still Seek ‘Benefits Agreement’ Obama Nixed For Library

CHICAGO (CBS) — Former President Barack Obama says he rejects the idea of a Community Benefits Agreement with residents of the neighborhood surrounding the site of his presidential center, because it’s not inclusive enough. Despite that, several hundred people met at Hyde Park High School Wednesday night to demand that he reconsider.

“We’re going to be heard. We’re going to make noise,” said Charles Perry of the Westside Health Authority, who emceed the two-hour meeting.

The Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) is a prime backer of such an agreement. Its executive director, Jay Travis, said rapidly increasing housing prices in Woodlawn, adjoining the site, raises a question.

“Will Chicago continue to be home to black working people?” he asked. “What good is the center if we’re displaced before it opens?”

KOCO organizer and Woodlawn resident Jeanette Taylor said rising rents have already pushed her out of Bronzeville; she said she is determined not to let it happen again. She said the Obamas must reconsider.

“Remember that it was people from communities of color who helped you get into office,” she said. “That was your Senate seat. That was you being an organizer. That was you being the President. Don’t forget where you came from.”

Taylor said it is “morally right” to grant such an agreement.

Organizers want an agreement that promises:

• 80 percent of Presidential Center-related jobs to area residents, with a minimum $15 hourly wage;
• better schools;
• a guarantee that existing low-income and affordable housing remain and that 30 percent of newly-built housing be set aside for low-income residents;
• and a property tax freeze for long-time area residents.

Rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith told the audience that he believes the $15 hourly wage, said by some to be the “living wage,” is not enough. He said the minimum should be $25/hour.

Marcus Gill of the group “Southside Together Organizing for Power” said any meaningful approach to guaranteeing jobs requires the execution of contracts.

The organizers would like to see a city ordinance requiring such an agreement, and say a measure could be introduced in the City Council next month.

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