Residents of South Chicago are speaking up about being priced out of their longtime neighborhoods as a result of President Barack Obama’s presidential library.
The Obama Presidential Center, which broke ground in 2021, has seen median home prices double in the surrounding area, rents soar, and complaints grow that the president’s legacy monument is not being built with their interests in mind.
Speaking to the Washington Post, one longtime South Chicago resident said, “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?” A longtime community activist added that residents don’t want “Obama’s legacy marred by the displacement of thousands of Black families.”
Since its inception, the $500 million project has been tailed by housing advocates who have demanded the city mandate affordable housing in its vicinity. Those calls were recently made to Brandon Johnson, one of the Democratic candidates running to replace Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in a forum last month.
“Will our rents be raised?” asked one resident.
“Will we have to move?” asked another.
“Some of us have lived here for more than 40 years,” a woman said.
President Obama, who was on hand for the center’s groundbreaking, spoke about his intention to give back to the community by building the library:
“It feels natural for Michelle and me to want to give back to Chicago and to the South Side in particular,” the former president told the audience. “The Obama Presidential Center is our way of repaying some of what this amazing city has given us.”
The Obama Foundation has attempted to quell protests by engaging with activists. The president’s team estimates the center will deliver $3.1 billion in economic development to the neighborhood during construction and over the next decade, plus an indirect $16.5 million in state and local tax revenue.
In 2019, the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing dubbed Chicago’s south side the worst for eviction filings. Higher vacancy rates have also created lucrative opportunities for developers to flip properties and sell to more affluent buyers.