Logan Square residents making at least $17 per hour will serve as the predominant workforce for Blue Star Properties’ incoming hotel and restaurant.
The real estate company, whose hotel and restaurant will sit right outside the Logan Square Blue Line station in the old Grace’s furniture building (2616 N. Milwaukee Ave.), signed a community benefits agreement (CBA) at the end of December with two community organizations, where it pledged to support community-based jobs and equitable hiring in an area already fraught with displacement, which Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa supported.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, over 20,000 of Logan Square’s Latinx residents have been displaced from the neighborhood in the last 15 years, coinciding with hefty rises in rent and property taxes. A recent WBEZ analysis noted that about 46 percent of residents are white and 44 percent are Latinx.
“These challenges have been around for a while—the community’s needs are very persistent,” said Juliana Gonzalez-Crussi, the executive director of the Center for Changing Lives, an organization that provides support services like financial counseling in order to address root causes of poverty.
The Center for Changing Lives collaborated with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association to secure the CBA. Both organizations are members of Elevated Chicago, a collaborative working to promote equitable development around transit stations.
Under the CBA, the hotel developer committed to having at least 75 percent of its employees be Logan Square residents, to pay those employees at least $17 an hour and to ensure equity in hiring among Latinx residents.
The two community groups will make sure the CBA is enforced by monitoring the developer’s position openings along with the number of candidates hired from CCL referrals and the number of residents hired from Logan Square zip codes. Residents interested in seeking a job at the hotel should visit the Center for Changing Lives at 1955 N. St. Louis Ave. to set up an appointment with one of the center’s coaches.
Gonzalez-Crussi described the process of securing the CBA, which began in October, as a team effort that brought diverse voices to the table.
“This is a community process so there were different folks engaged in different ways,” she said. “It’s a significant accomplishment, if I may say so.”
The Ongoing Fight Against Displacement
The onslaught of new developments that have driven out thousands of Logan Square Latinx residents is a trend that will continue, said Roberto Requejo, the program director of Elevated Chicago.
Requejo’s collaborative, which includes 17 member organizations, convenes community groups and encourages the city and private sector to view developments’ outcomes through a racial equity lens in order to make new additions to the neighborhood advantageous for all residents.
“We love to see new development in Logan Square, but at the same time we want that to benefit everyone,” he said.
In addition to funding and supporting the community groups who secured the recent CBA, Elevated Chicago promotes projects around public art, health and climate resilience.
It specifically focuses on developments occurring within a half mile of public transit hubs, referred to as transit-oriented development (TOD), including the Logan Square Blue Line station. Requejo explained that TOD is inherently more equitable than building around cars, because public transit is accessible to more people.
“Sixty percent of transit riders in the U.S. are people of color,” he said, adding that car ownership rates are much higher for white Americans than they are for people of color.
The mural outside the Logan Square Blue Line station’s Spaulding Avenue exit, painted by local artists Darius Dennis and Jason Benton last year, was one such TOD project. Requejo said that the mural displays the community’s resiliency while celebrating its culture.
“For a Latinx family seeing everything close around them, it’s important to see things around them that look like them,” he said.
A disappearing local culture—such as a popular restaurant being forced to close because it can no longer afford rent—is insidious damage that displacement casts on affected neighborhoods, on top of diminished affordable housing, Requejo said.
“Logan Square culture means many things because it’s very diverse,” he said. “In the past decades, it has been a community with strong Latinx roots and is losing its rich, cultural background as people move out.”
Requejo also spoke of the importance of shaping positive narratives around neighborhood development instead of reiterating the typical stories told by the media which can exacerbate the problems.
“When you hear about TOD in the news, it’s often associated with tall towers coming into a neighborhood and affordable housing issues,” Requejo said.
Elevated Chicago wants to shift the conversation around TOD to be more productive and inclusive. As Requejo said, “Transit-oriented development can look like a new tower, but it can also be an affordable housing development or public art.”
Featured photo: Protesters called for an inclusive and diverse Logan Square at the March for Racial Equity last October. Photo: Raquel Venado for Elevated Chicago