By Jay Travis and Diane Doherty

Eulonda Cooper is in the eye of the storm. A spirited, hard-working mother of four who lives in an affordable rental unit in the Kenwood Oakland community, she is being denied the safety and security that any hard-working American deserves. She sits on the local school council of two elementary schools and is a member of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

In a community that has rapidly gentrified since the mid-90s, she is concerned about the impact the Olympics would have on the price of housing in her neighborhood. Many of the people she knew in the neighborhood are gone; priced out due to escalating rents or moved out due to the CHA Plan for Transformation, which resulted in the loss of over 3,000 rental units. "The Olympics cannot be used as a tool to finally push all of us out. I want my children to live in stable, quality housing in this neighborhood." For her, the fear that the Olympics could mean very real.

The convenient opinion is that the people who have lived in this community for decades – hard-working, law-abiding citizens who work as bus drivers, single parents, teachers, nurses aides, security guards, police officers and other honorable professions…need to go. The Olympics are an opportunity to finally invest in the communities that have suffered through municipal, state, and federal disinvestment.

We have been concerned about this issue for a long time. Community groups have organized forums since January, and residents have clearly expressed their concerns around being left out of the Olympic process. Community members have met with local aldermen, the department of planning, and Chicago 2016 representatives to express these concerns, but to no avail.

This led to the formation of Communities for an Equitable Olympics 2016 (CEO 2016), a coalition of community and labor organizations, working together to win enforceable community benefits in conjunction with Chicago’s Olympics bid. Members include Action Now, American Friends Service Committee, Brighton Park Neighborhood Coalition, Centers for New Horizons, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Grassroots Collaborative, Illinois Hunger Coalition, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, MAGIC, Metropolitan Alliance of Congregations, Service Employees International Union Healthcare IL/IN. We have come together to form a broad and deep coalition of South Side and city-wide groups organizing for justice and equity.

One major area of concern is Chicago’s plan to build the Olympic Village at the site of Michael Reese Hospital. Mere minutes from downtown, the 37-acre plot represents a potential bonanza for the city and developers and the prospect of hosting the games provides the city with an excuse to secure the prime lakefront property. The plans for Michael Reese set the stage for a land grab that will push out low-income residents and seniors in the area. The city plans on building over 7,000 units of housing at the site -- regardless of whether we win the bid for the games -- sending local property taxes and rents skyrocketing. With all that’s at stake, we know that it will take a broad and deep coalition to move our efforts forward -- to ensure that South Side communities not only survive in the coming years, but thrive.

Members of CEO 2016 have been intensively organizing and strategizing around the core platform of our campaign, which stipulates that affordable housing, living wage jobs and workers’ rights, transportation, public subsidy accountability, public space, education and public safety are among the issues that the city and Chicago 2016 need to address. To effectively do this, the community must be at the table. In a true mixed-income community, the institutions that impact our quality of life must be a high level of efficiency for all residents, regardless of race or economic status. As a society, we have failed at this.

In the last few weeks, over 500 community residents organized by CEO 2016 have come out in support of a process that incorporates the voices of the communities that will be directly impacted by the games. And that number is growing, as grassroots leaders insist on a seat at the table. Chicago cannot develop billion-dollar plans for the South and West Sides without any real community input.

So, in the Mid-South community that has experienced 12 school closings since 1997 and is being rapidly gentrified, the Olympics should not be used as a tool to complete the process of removing working and low-income families from the neighborhood. In essence, the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid is about the future of African-American and Latino families on the South Side of Chicago who are in jeopardy of being swept out as Chicago expands the Loop south.
Every Chicagoan should benefit from the Olympics, not just a privileged few.
Travis is executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Doherty is chair of Grassroots Collaborative.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the Illinois Editorial Forum.