Can Pilsen pull off responsible development?
A private developer intending to build more than ten units of housing in Pilsen must set aside 21 percent of those units for people earning 60 to 85 percent of the greater metro area’s median income ($75,400 for a four-person household), explains Raul Raymundo, Resurrection Project’s CEO. “That’s the highest set-aside rate in Chicago,” Raymundo notes, and “a good example of using the private market to create housing.”
Pilsen Alliance, which takes a hard-line stance against gentrification, has been strongly critical of some of these efforts to provide affordable housing. “Affordable to whom?” challenges executive director Alejandra Ibañez. “You know, politicians can talk all they want about, ‘Oh, I have these set-asides for affordable housing,’ but they’re not telling people that the criteria [for median income] is based on the six-county region.… If you want to put all those counties together, the income is much higher. It’s really not fair to say it’s affordable to local folks.” She’s supportive of certain initiatives, however, such as the Resurrection Project’s track record of building 140 affordable single-family homes, because many of those homes occupy vacant lots the group kept away from outside condo developers.
Meanwhile, Father Charles Dahm, a cofounder and board member of the Project, looks for middle ground. If you consider the Project’s track record of building homes and rehabbing rental units, “that’s gentrification, in the sense that it’s an improvement in the neighborhood,” says Dahm, a priest for 23 years at Pilsen’s St. Pius V parish. “You’ve got to distinguish between different kinds of development.”
Since the Resurrection Project was founded in 1990, Dahm says, one of its big messages has been: “Don’t leave the neighborhood; stay and build up the neighborhood. This is your home, and you should stay and develop it yourselves.”
Pilsen residents are listening to that message, according to Maya Solis. She talks about Mexican-American urban professionals returning to the neighborhood (“I call them Muppies”), buying condos and rehabbing old houses. “I think that should be applauded,” she says. “The only thing constant in life is change. You can’t really stop it.… My thing is, rather than fight it, I’m going to do whatever I can so my family and my peers can be a part of it.”