“There’s no room for guilt in this conversation,” Amie Sell said during the heat of a gentrification talk Wednesday, Jan. 14, in Logan Square.
The evening, organized by local activist group We Are/Somos Logan Square, was the first of four events to be held throughout January. Sell, acting We Are Logan Square host, kicked off the event by sharing statistics on how Logan Square demographics are changing, and stating the group’s goal to preserve its residents’ rights by halting rent increases and evictions.
Several residents shared their stories of displacement, including Emily Lofquist, a Logan Square resident since 2012. Lofquist said she was forced to move from her first Logan Square apartment after rent increases pushed her out of budget.
Lofquist added that her friends were hesitant to come to the series for fear of being “the white, male hipster in the room.” The packed sanctuary of Grace Methodist Church, however, was a diverse crowd—eclectically dressed youth and lifelong residents who emigrated from Puerto Rico included.
“We have spent a lot of time this last year talking about gentrification in the neighborhood at various events and we collaborated with many community members to put together this series,” Sell said during the event.
One of those community residents was Angelica Ugarte, who brought the issue of gentrification to life with her story of moving to Chicago in 1993.
“I came to study … and to have a nice life,” Ugarte said, adding she wouldn’t find that nice life without going broke as her neighborhood changed.
“I never saw myself as poor,” she said. “You feel so bad and you don’t know what to do.”
As she faced 30-day notices, sky-rocketing interest rates, and a see-saw of selling and buying back her home, her sadness turned to anger.
“I was so mad this was happening to me,” she remembered. “You’re walking down the street and you see all these white faces, and you say, ‘What’s going on here?’ I went through the process of hating everyone.”
Ugarte has now found stability in her struggle of home ownership, and works at a nonprofit that advocates for tenant’s rights.
Following Ugarte’s story, Mark Fick, director of lending operations at the Chicago Community Loan Fund, provided a launching pad for action—but not necessarily against the redevelopment of the neighborhood. Fick stressed that “development is not always an evil thing.”
“The question is choice and control,” Fick said. He encouraged “residents who have options to localize development.”
Juanita Irizarry, who is running in the 26th Ward race for alderman, spoke during the public comment portion of the evening. She was the only public official or candidate in attendance.
“Who you elect as alderman and what they believe about zoning, and whether zoning is a private right or public, makes a big difference,” Irizarry said.
Sell echoed Irizarry comments, saying, “Alderman have a lot of control when it comes to zoning and if we don’t tell them what we want, then developers get what they want.”
The series continued with “History of Gentrification” on Jan. 17 and “Racism and Classism” on Jan. 21. The final event of the series is “Affordability Saving Diversity” from Noon-1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, at Humboldt Park United Methodist Church, 2122 Mozart St.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/weare.somos.LSQ.