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Posted under: News Trending

Why Some Chicagoans Aren't Here For The Upcoming Obama Presidential Center

The rent about to be too damn high.

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Former President Barack Obama will build his presidential library, the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), in the Jackson Park neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. 

This is a historic moment, but the reaction isn't all congratulatory. 

According to The Washington Post, many of the residents who live in the neighborhood are worried about what the OPC's grand opening could mean for their way of life. The OPC, set to span 20 acres of Jackson Park, will consist of four buildings, including a two-story "forum" for public programming, a museum tower, a library and an athletic center.

Like in other large cities, Chicago's black community is worried about gentrification. Residents fear that gentrification will accelerate once the center opens. They also fear that rising property taxes and rents will drive them out of the neighborhood.

About two dozen community, preservation and fair housing groups have urged the Obama Foundation, the city of Chicago and the University of Chicago to sign a community benefits agreement, a promise that those parties will take steps to ensure residents will not be forced out of their homes. A 2017 study conducted by the DePaul University Institute for Housing Studies found that more than 14,000 households near Jackson Park are in need of affordable housing.

The Obama Foundation has refused to sign the promise. Barack Obama has argued that the residents will be fine and their lives will be improved by the library.

"We will not displace residents," said Obama. "If rents go up, [residents] can afford to pay it because they will have jobs."

Obama has stated that the OPC project will create $3 billion in economic activity and 5,000 permanent jobs.

"This could anchor a transformation of the South Side to create more jobs, more business opportunities, more educational opportunities, more hope. This is our gift. This is us wanting to give back," stated Obama at an appearance for the OPC last month.

Activists say they've heard sunny promises like this before.

"Their mind is, 'We'll let the market handle it.' That usually means disaster for black people," said activist Anton Seals, Jr.

A protest of the OPC happened this week. Ahead of it, activist Charles Preston posted a flyer for the protest outside of 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran's office that suggested the residents' worst fears are already becoming reality.

"Today, tenants of the Jackson Park Apartments will be protesting against their aldermen and the Obama Presidential Library for a community benefits agreement," Preston tweeted. "Tenants, who live across the street from the proposed library, said they've been told rent increases will come next week."

Obama has not commented on the protest. The OPC is scheduled for completion in 2021. 

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Tonja Renée Stidhum is a writer/director made of sugar and spice and everything rice. She has the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.