Westside Residents Demand Jobs and Community Benefits

"No more public giveaways without benefits for the community," said Angela McClellan. "We need a Community Benefits Agreement because it’s no more business as usual on the West Side."

Angela is a leader with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, one of our partners in the Westside Community Benefits Coalition, who participated in a recent press conference on September 15, 2015 calling for a Community Benefits Agreement with the Gateway Development Partners. 

A Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) is a legally enforceable contract, signed by community groups and a developer, outlining specific community benefits from a major development project.

Last October, the Illinois Medical District (IMD) Commission, a public entity on the West Side, signed a 75-year ground lease with the Gateway Development Partners for a new $300 million, 1.16 million-square-foot development near Damen and Ogden Avenues expected to create more than 1,000 permanent jobs.

This development, which will include a 10-story hotel, apartments, retail, restaurants and office space, should be great news for Westside residents. But, members of the Westside Community Benefits Coalition are concerned that this development will occur without directly benefiting nearby residents who need good jobs. Over 35% of Westside households live below the federal poverty level while nearly 20% of Westside residents are unemployed.     

"This is why we are fighting for a Community Benefits Agreement: we want to hold the developers accountable to the communities that are affected," explained Gale Lewis, a leader with Community Renewal Society. “As Christians and people who choose to do what’s right, we are our brother’s keepers.”

The coalition is demanding a CBA that guarantees permanent, living wage jobs for current Westside residents, affordable housing within the development, and guaranteed jobs for a certain number of qualified residents with criminal records or long-term unemployment through a First Source Hiring Office.

"My goal today is to be a productive tax-paying member of society again," said Angela McClellan. "Ex-offenders without a job and goals will soon be re-offenders! I don’t feel it’s right that these million dollar development projects are here and I might be denied due to my past mistakes. My criminal background does not define who I am; therefore, it should not dictate my future."

The massive Gateway Development Project will be a catalyst for sustainable economic development in the Illinois Medical District—the largest medical district in the country. The IMD is situated less than two miles from Chicago’s central business community, and generates $3.4 billion in annual economic activity from over 80,000 visitors a day. 

A Community Benefits Agreement with the Gateway Development Partners would be a landmark agreement and a positive step towards addressing the West Side’s massive unemployment and poverty rates. It would also ensure that taxpayer dollars are allocated to a development project that produces tangible benefits to the local community.

"It is great to see this development happening but Westside residents want and need to be very involved in the process," said Joanne Terrell, a member of Action Now and 31-year resident of the West Side. "A CBA would guarantee that this development on the West Side will benefit all residents of the West Side." 

So far, the Gateway Development Partners have been unwilling to negotiate a CBA. The Gateway Partners includes:  Higgins Development Partners, Thomas Samuels Enterprises, East Lake Management and Development (headed by Chicago developer Elzie Higginbottom), and Isiah Real Estate (headed by former NBA star Isiah Thomas).

At the end of the press conference, members of the coalition marched over to the vacant lot at 2020 W. Ogden, the future site of the Gateway Development. There members joined hands and were led in prayer by Rev. George Daniels, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Congregational Church and Board Member of Community Renewal Society. 

The Westside Community Benefits Coalition has garnered the support of elected Westside officials: Aldermen Jason Ervin, Walter Burnett Jr., Emma Mitts and Michael Scott, Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele, Representatives Arthur Turner, La Shawn Ford, Camille Lilly, and Pamela Reaves-Harris, and Senators Don Harmon, Kimberly Lightford, and Patricia Van Pelt.  The coalition is also fighting for a similar CBA with the future developers of the nearby Cook County Stroger Hospital Redevelopment.

The Westside Community Benefits Coalition includes: Action Now, Austin Coming Together, Central States SER, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago Jobs Council, Community Renewal Society, Enlace Chicago, FORCE Project, Interfaith Organizing Project, LEADERS Network, North Lawndale Employment Network, Northwest River District of the Baptist Church, Safer Foundation, St. Leonard’s Ministries, and Westside Health Authority.

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