By: Stephanie Salgado, AmeriCorps State & National Member
Chicago's public image is that of a powerhouse in the global economy, with explosive food, culture, and captivating skyscrapers. However, much like other mega-cities, this ideal characterization of Chicago fails to capture the lives of over 58,000 Chicagoans experiencing homelessness as of 2019. For many, there are no other options but to stay at a shelter or double up in someone else’s residence. Others are pushed to the city streets, forced to camp out and sleep on the hard concrete, smothered by the polluted smoke left by passerby cars. On top of having difficult access to housing, the challenges that people experiencing homelessness face worsen their overall health. While the experience of homelessness varies across individuals, one of the modern driving forces of homelessness is tied to gentrification.
In the history of settlement in Chicago gentrification, the incoming of wealthy residents and the introduction of neighborhood renovation into low-income communities have disrupted and displaced many of its own community members. This shift can be explained by a number of factors. New job opportunities are offered in these gentrified areas by high-paying professional jobs, which may require individuals to move in order to network and advance their careers. Low crime rates brought on by investment in the community can bring ease to some families who are looking to relocate to a safer neighborhood. Amenities like hip restaurants, theaters, transit, and other unique establishments attract people of higher socioeconomic status. These factors create an influx of affluent residents into low-income communities, consequently raising the cost of housing. The price of units increases and are no longer affordable to long-term residents, pushing them out of their neighborhoods and, often enough, into homelessness and rampant poverty. Gentrification further perpetuates the worsening racial and economic segregation present in Chicago’s communities. Terms such as North Side, West Side, and South Side encompass subtle meanings that relate to the division of Chicago. These terms are characterized by their descriptions of neighborhoods that vary from affluent White Chicagoans, North Side, to impoverished predominantly people of color, West Side and South Side.
This narrative remains true for Chicago’s very own Pilsen neighborhood on the Lower West Side, with its rich history, culture, community, and families. Long-term Pilsen resident, Lucy Gutierrez, has steadily witnessed the loss of her very own community members as the price of housing forced her neighbors to sell their homes. This wave of gentrification replaced small family-owned businesses with new trendy restaurants and luxury developments. Existing residents are prevented from benefiting from the economic growth as they become unemployed and suffer from the dramatic increase in housing prices. Furthermore, as the population of minorities continues to decline, and are replaced by wealthy white incomers, this makes way for culture displacement. As there is less appreciation of the art, language, and history ingrained in the neighborhood, its residents endure a loss of social and personal identity.
To combat the effects of gentrification in Pilsen, local residents came together to form The Resurrection Project in 1990. Their work includes finding affordable housing and quality education for its community members. The Resurrection Project has around 800 affordable units in Chicago’s West and South Side neighborhoods, as well as five housing projects. Raul Raymundo, CEO of the Resurrection Project, expressed that the Resurrection Project “‘is part of a bigger effort to further create balanced development,’” and “‘[a]s [they] welcome newcomers, [they] want families from the neighborhood to benefit from the prosperity of the neighborhood.’”
However, Pilsen is not the only neighborhood in Chicago that has experienced a stark transformation brought upon by gentrification. Humboldt Park, located on Chicago’s West side, has seen a tremendous spike in the cost of living. In 2020, DePaul University conducted a study looking at trends in the cost of living near the 606, which includes Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square. This study found that from 2012 to 2022, the price for one-to-four unit buildings dramatically increased by 344 percent. Patricia Prado, another community member, shares that she lived in Humboldt Park for twenty-two years, until 2019 when she and her family had to relocate due to the increase in property taxes. “‘I didn’t have the financial means to do what I needed to do so because the area was so hot and gentrification was still going on, people want the land,’” Patricia expressed. “‘They didn’t care about my house. It’s all about location.’” Gentrification continues to adversely affect people like Patricia Prado and Lucy Gutierrez - those with the least voice and power in society.
Housing goes beyond having a roof over your head. Health outcomes and individual well-being are not only influenced by biological factors but also by housing, food access, and education. Individuals that endure long-term homelessness are put at a higher risk for chronic conditions, substance abuse, mental illness, and other large problems. As homelessness is a life-altering experience, it is common for people who are experiencing homelessness to be exposed to trauma or relive past trauma as a result. As mainly working-class minorities who are at a higher risk of becoming homeless are continually met with excessive heights in the cost of living, it is important to consider the loss of identity, opportunities, and culture that quickly follows.
The Resurrection Project | (312) 666-1323
Logan Square Association Neighborhood | (773) 384-4370
The Chicago Urban League | (773) 285-5800
Latino Policy Reform | (312) 376-1766
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