SOUTH SHORE – Nine of 11 candidates vying to replace retired Ald. Leslie Hairston in the South Side 5th Ward gathered Sunday at South Shore United Methodist Church to share their views on the housing issues facing residents.
Nominees Renita Ward, Gabriel Piemonte, Dialika “Dee” Perkins, Kris Levy, Wallace J. Goode, Desmon Yancy, Marlene Fisher, Robert Palmer and Joshua Gray all appeared at the forum. Martina “Tina” Hone and Jocelyn Hare did not participate.
Adrienne Irmer was disqualified from Friday’s runoff after election officials determined he was not living in the 5th Precinct.
The event was co-sponsored by Not Me We, a community self-help organization, and the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, which aims to ensure affordable housing and equitable development on the South Shore.
In the first half of the forum, the moderators tried to fix the candidates on their housing policies. Candidates were asked what policies in their platforms would keep rent stable, with rates rising and the 5th Ward facing a high level of evictions.
Community organizer Yancy said he would push for a $5 increase in the minimum wage and expand universal basic income programs. Gray proposed expanding the current 60-day notice for the Chicago move to 120 days.
Piedmont, a community organizer and former editor of the Hyde Park Herald, argued for a greater degree of involvement between the alderman and the big real estate companies. He called the increase in real estate speculation in the 5th district “criminal in nature.”
Flyers distributed by community organizers say that most South Shore residents are burdened with housing costs, meaning that housing costs make up more than 30% of their annual budget and the neighborhood’s eviction rate is the highest top of the city.
All candidates except Fisher said they would support Bring Chicago home, a community organized homeless relief platform which advocates raising the city’s real estate transfer tax by 1.9 points in order to create a dedicated revenue stream to build “permanent support housing” in Chicago.
The Bring Chicago Home ordinance has stalled after 25 aldermen – including Hairston – missed a hearing on the issue in 2022, preventing it from going to a vote.
Candidates were asked if they were familiar with Obama’s CBA Coalition Southern shore requests, which are the subject of a non-binding referendum for South Shore voters in the Feb. 28 election. The requests promote large increases in tenant rights and affordable housing throughout the South Shore.
South Side activists with the Obama CBA Coalition have asked a broad arrangement of community benefits since 2016.
Ward, a lawyer and local minister, said the community should not treat the coalition’s demands as if they were set in stone. Rather, we need to “continue to engage with the requests” and keep the door open for further community meetings and future adjustments, he said.
Piedmont and Yancy argued that the community work has already been done.
“Anyone who doesn’t know about the CBA hasn’t been paying attention,” Piemonte said, drawing applause from some in the audience and boos and whoops from others.
It’s time to “trust the people,” Yancy said, expressing full support for the CBA requests as written.
The second part of the forum focused on other community issues, with candidates invited to answer questions posed by the public.
Seven of the nine candidates expressed their support for the “Non-trauma treatmentprogram, which would aim to reopen the city’s closed mental health crisis centers on the South Side. Goode and Perkins did not use the allotted time to clearly answer the question.
Levy, who has expressed support for Treatment Not Trauma and whose campaign prioritizes economic development, said the root of the mental crisis ultimately lies in a lack of “jobs and money” in the 5th Ward.
Police in schools
The end of the meeting became controversial when candidates were asked whether they would support removing police from schools and replacing them with crisis counselors.
Block Club and Chalkbeat Chicago it extensively covered school resource officials and individual schools’ votes on whether to retain them.
All candidates, except Piedmont, said they were reluctant to withdraw police officers from schools.
Piedmont said it would remove police from schools, characterizing them as bullies. Fisher said she felt safer in schools with police officers present, drawing fierce shouts from high school students in the crowd.
Three of the nine candidates – Palmer, Gray and Fisher – said they were former teachers.
“Whose schools are they? Our schools! Whose community? Our community!” the students sang. Their shouts often drowned out the candidates’ attempts to answer the question.
The 5th Ward includes parts of Hyde Park, Woodlawn and the South Shore. The election is February 28th. If no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two will compete in a runoff election on April 4.
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