Byron Sigcho, Executive Director at the Pilsen Alliance, joined us and shared his perspective about the importance of community inclusion in the development of communities. Pilsen Alliance was founded over 20 years ago, and started as a resource group for the community addressing the question: “what can we do about displacement?”
Sigcho walked us through a brief recent history of Pilsen – comprised of majority Latino population. The expansion of University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in the 1960s spearheaded by Mayor Daley led to the displacement of ~5,000 residents; in the 1970s, the Chicago Central Area Committee proposed replacing the old industrial areas south and east of Pilsen through the Chicago Plan 21. This would have displaced many middle class communities but fortunately due to community organizing this plan never became reality (wttw). In more recent years, the active flow of TIF funding into the redevelopment of the neighborhood has increased the pace and pressure for development, consequently impacting affordable housing offerings and efforts, and increasing tension between current residents and new developers – this is where The Pilsen Alliance is actively focusing their advocacy efforts.
Most recently, Pilsen Alliance has spearheaded advocacy efforts related to this ±8-acre vacant site located on Peoria and 18th Street that is slated for redevelopment. The property was cleared during 2006 for redevelopment (before the economic crisis); in 2009 the property was purchased by the Jesuit community who had full support from the community for its redevelopment plans (Pilsen is dominantly a catholic community). By 2015 the Midwest Jesuits decided to sell and the purchase transaction by Property Markets Groups (PMG) was completed in 2017.
Property Markets Groups currently proposes the development of +465 units apartments called Park Works; does not have any record of developing affordable housing. “Designs started to appear in the website as it was a done deal” mentioned Sigcho while highlighting the paradox that this wave of investment represents in relationship to the unmet expectations of affordable housing development outlined in the Pilsen Quality of Life Plan (2006) – the plan proposes 21% of affordable housing requirement for any new development.
“We are still defining what affordability means in Pilsen; in addition, our average median income has declined from $37,000 to 34,000”. While many members of the community support new development, says Sigcho, they also fear of being displaced. This is not an exclusive challenge in Pilsen, but the tension has grown with events like the erasure of dear elements of public art such as the mural that once was on the facade of Casa Aztlan; and makes community worry as well about the impact of new amenities, such as El Paseo trail. “With El Paseo incrementally growing, we are learning from the effects of the 606 trail and working on how to create a plan that addresses displacement”.
“Pilsen has a legacy of a lot of people coming together for organizing [...] we educate our people to understand what is possible and what is not”. Sigcho reflects on how can we create a participation method that includes both development and inclusion.
Park Workx has been under scrutiny by multiple local activists and journalists – indeed because of what the impact of this scale and type of development might have in Pilsen, but also because of the lack of inclusion and transparency in the process so far. Park Workx is just one more item of concern among multiples others that are raising the question: how development can have a more equitable approach? Pilsen Alliance is working in a few initiatives in collaboration with UIC and DePaul University related to rent control and property tax assessment policy reform.
Additionally, homeownership has been very challenging in Pilsen where the real estate has been so dynamic, nonetheless cooperative models are being explored by The Resurrection Project and Pilsen Alliance. The dynamic real estate market has also highlighted how eviction regulations and procedures also need review and update.
There are multiple layers and moving parts when thinking of impact in communities. The importance from Pilsen Alliance’s perspective is to continue offering support and resources for community organizing, urban planning and research. The more tools and resources, the more opportunities for dialogue and discussion, the more the opportunities to find equitable approaches for development. Pilsen Alliance is partnering with City Open to explore creating a community driven planning process related to the site on Peoria and 18th St – focused in equitable and affordable new developments. Moises Moreno, community organizer at Pilsen Alliance, also insisted in the importance of education to “teach youth [in Pilsen] to be planners”, but also the importance of being active and involved in the development of their community.
After Pilsen Alliance’s presentation, teams continued their work with Spring projects: churches of the future, vacant spaces, and affordable housing. Topics discussed included: Identification of key issue by communities, relevance and to whom, clarification of research questions, availability of resources, people and organizations to reach out, best practices or case studies to look at, and identifying key interviews with community organizations to learn more about their groundwork.
Workshop agenda + notes here.