|COMM-ORG Papers 2003||
Blanc et al.: From the Ground Up
| Preface | Summary | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Appendices | Cited Works and Notes | Acknowledgements and About Authors |
Located on the northwest side of Chicago, Logan Square, Chicago Community Area 22, is a neighborhood of roughly 83,000 inhabitants. Logan Square’s political boundaries include portions of the 26th, 31st, 35th, and with recent redistricting, 1st Wards. According to 2000 census data, 66% of the population is Latino, 27% is non-Latino whites, 5% is non-Latino African Americans, 1.5 % Asian and Pacific Islander, and .19% Native American (Census 2000 at www.suntimes.com). The community area includes a wide range of housing stock and economic groups. Household income census data available at the time of this writing shows that in 2000 Logan Square, the median household income was $36,245. Seventeen percent of the total population received public assistance in the form of Aid for Dependent Children, Medicaid, or other forms of assistance.
From outward appearances, Chicago looks to non-residents like a thriving multicultural city but it is in fact among the most segregated of American cities and can be mapped out as a series of neighborhood pockets divided by race and social class. Logan Square is one of the very few Chicago neighborhoods that is both multi-racial and multi-class and has been for decades. LSNA has been successful in bringing into its membership Anglos, Latinos, and African Americans, young people as well as seniors. LSNA's membership includes some people who live in the historic greystone mansions along Logan Boulevard and others who live in Lathrop Homes, the public housing units just across the river in the adjacent neighborhood of Lakeview. Members of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association are wrestling with how to find a way to preserve the economic and multicultural diversity that is still a part of their neighborhood even as the surge of townhouse construction and condo conversion continues to roll through their community.
Logan Square Neighborhood Association is a well-established community organization that was started in the early 1960s by a group of local churches, businesses, and homeowners to address neighborhood concerns arising from rapid suburbanization and deindustrialization in the Chicago metropolitan area. Around the time of LSNA's formation, longtime residents of Logan Square, primarily working-class families of European descent, were leaving Logan Square and new residents were moving into the area, many of them Cuban and Puerto Rican families coming from poorer neighborhoods. Although residents organized in the 1960s to fight community deterioration when long-term residents and businesses began to leave, incoming Latino families moving into Logan Square in the 1970s perceived “living in Logan Square...as a measure of social prosperity and achievement” (Padilla, 1993:134).
Padilla's valuable study of Puerto Ricans in Logan Square portrays Logan Square as a place of "second settlement" that attracted many upwardly mobile Latinos who viewed the neighborhood as a “serene and tranquil neighborhood, a place with safe streets and good public schools” during the 1970s. To meet the growing demand of Latinos for food and other specialty items, Latino businessmen developed the commercial streets into a Latino-dominated shopping area that included Puerto Rican, Mexican American, and Cuban food stores, restaurants, and jewelry stores. In addition, Latino professionals established other small businesses such as travel agencies, law firms, realtors, and accountants to meet the special needs of the immigrant community. Beginning in the 1980s, several non-profit organizations, including Aspira, the Boys and Girls Club, and Hispanic Housing, also focused on the educational and housing needs of Latinos in Logan Square.
In addition to several active commercial strips and community banks, the attractive housing stock, good public transportation, and geographical accessibility from the neighborhood to downtown Chicago and O’Hare airport have continued to attract middle-class professionals of all races since the 1970s. Thus, the neighborhood did not face the degree of financial disinvestments and racial segregation common to many low-income Latino and African American neighborhoods.
Since its inception in 1962, Logan Square Neighborhood Association has worked to maintain the financial stability of the neighborhood and has grappled with how to position itself relative to the differing interests of working-class and middle-class constituencies within the neighborhood's geographic boundaries. LSNA's membership has consistently included community residents who represent the interests of a range of economic and ethnic groups.
Source: LSNA Holistic Plan-2002
LSNA and Chicago Public Schools
In 1988, Illinois enacted legislation that mandated local community control of Chicago public schools. It is possible to analyze the 1988 reform as meeting a wide variety of agendas. For business interests, the reform was seen as a means of fixing schools, a necessity for attracting investment, supporting the development of up-scale neighborhoods, and promoting Chicago as a global city. The school reformers saw decentralization of school control as a vital strategy to democratize control of schools and promote innovation. Some social justice activists saw it as an opportunity for grassroots organizing and grassroots community power.
Shipps (1997) argues that the decentralization plan was primarily a business initiative to reform the schools in the interest of larger development plans. Business interests promoted a decentralized management style popular with major corporations to increase innovation and efficiency by reducing bureaucracy. On the other hand, Designs for Change, one of the architects of the plan, saw the reform as a grassroots strategy to democratize schools and give more power to parents and communities. Prior to 1988, a series of teachers’ strikes led to widespread public protests and grassroots mobilization for improvements in public education. Mayor Harold Washington initiated an Education Summit (actually taking place after his death), which brought the school reformers together with the business interests to fashion the outlines of the 1988 reform.
For Washington, the school reform fit with his plan for economic development that focused on keeping industries in the communities and promoting development in neighborhoods as well as downtown. It also fit with the politics of the Washington administration, which was rooted in grassroots community support and an effort to break from Democratic machine politics. Local school organizing was a piece of that strategy.
The decentralization of schools ushered in the creation of eleven member Local School Councils (LSCs) at each school, charged with hiring the principal and helping to make policy for that school. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, community groups across Chicago worked to make the reform a success by recruiting and training parent and community members to run as candidates in LSC elections. Under Chicago law, LSCs have the power to hire and fire principals and approve the use of discretionary funds (i.e., state and federal funds for low-income children and bilingual education), budgets, and yearly school improvement plans. This reform also brought an increase in the amount of discretionary funds schools controlled (on average approximately half a million dollars per elementary school). LSNA was one of many Chicago community organizations that saw opportunities for community involvement and improved schooling in this new system, and its strategies have been very successful in creating innovative programs and real educational improvements. The legislation gave LSNA an opportunity to play a larger role in its neighborhood schools, within a system that was notorious for resisting change.
When LSNA began to organize parents in the late 1980s, most public schools in Logan Square were composed of over 95 percent low-income and 90 percent Latino children. Middle-class professionals of all ethnic and racial groups were still drawn to parts of Logan Square, but in general they either didn’t have children or didn’t utilize the public schools. Student annual mobility rates (the proportion of students who move in and out of a particular school within a particular year) in Logan Square schools ranged from 30-75% annually. Standardized test scores were low, with the majority of students scoring in the bottom quartiles in both math and reading on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
LSNA’s work in reshaping neighborhood schools to better meet the needs of the community evolves from its overall commitment to community organizing and creating connections among individuals and institutions in the neighborhood. A central theme of LSNA's commitment to schools, as stated in the Holistic Plan, is that "strong communities need strong schools." Currently nine neighborhood schools collaborate with the community through their membership in LSNA.
LSNA’s first Parent Mentor programs and Community Learning Centers were established in 1995, and have been expanded since. As we show in the case study of LSNA's education organizing, these programs have facilitated new types of social relationships among parents and between parents and education professionals, as well as supporting leadership development and democratic participation in the community. In addition, schools that are engaged in partnerships with LSNA show steady increases in student achievement, which are attributed by many to the presence of parents in the schools and classrooms.
In 1995, the state legislature partially reversed the decentralization reform, moving toward recentralization by providing new powers to the Board of Education to unseat elected local school councils. This second reform was viewed by some in the education reform community as an attack on working-class communities and grassroots school reform (Lipman, 2002). In spite of these concerns, LSNA’s work in schools—including its programs, leadership development, and relationships with the Board of Education, principals, and other administrators—has continued to flourish.
Citywide Development Policies: The Impact on Housing in Logan Square
Today, Logan Square faces a major socio-economic transition; as the area becomes increasingly popular with real estate development and upper-income condominium owners, lower-income working people experience a real threat to their ability to continue living in the neighborhood. This trend began in the 1980s, as realtors and some neighborhood activists began promoting Logan Square's attractive housing stock and convenience to downtown Chicago. The trend has intensified in the past decade, with increasing impact in the last three to four years; as development has increased throughout the city, neighborhoods just to the east of Logan Square such as Wicker Park and Bucktown became much in demand and development began spilling over into Logan Square.
According to many analysts, the displacement of working class residents from Chicago's former mixed-use and industrial neighborhoods stems directly from urban development policies pursued since 1973 (e.g., Rast, 1999; Squires et al., 1987; Lipman, forthcoming). It was in 1973 that the Commercial Club initiated its Chicago 21 Plan. This plan, developed by Chicago's top business, financial, philanthropic, and civic leaders, created a vision which would transform Chicago into a 21st century global city. The plan for growth focused on rebuilding Chicago's Loop as a tourist and convention center. It also included plans to convert the surrounding ring of formerly industrial neighborhoods to upscale residential areas. These areas would appeal to professionals who would provide labor for the new information economy, but former residents of the industrial neighborhoods would be displaced.
Since the 1980s, Chicago has been following a national trend in changes in housing stock. With the loss of industry and manufacturing jobs, cities have become more polarized into wealthy and low-income groups. Residential neighborhoods have also become more segregated (Abu-Lughod, 1999; Castells, 1987; Sassen, 1991). Highly paid professionals cluster in attractive, gentrifying central cities, a trend which is reflected in the boom in construction in downtown Chicago over the past decade. New luxury townhouses, spacious lofts, and condominiums are evident in many parts of the city. On the other hand, low-paid, casual, or part-time workers, typically African American, Latino, or other immigrants disperse to impoverished outlying city neighborhoods or inner-ring suburbs. In addition to the shortage of rental units and affordable housing, much public housing (including a portion of that notorious symbol of Chicago’s urban poverty, the Cabrini Green high rises) has been torn down. Poor and working-class families increasingly are forced to double up with relatives or to move further and further out of the central city.
Rental Properties in Chicago
Despite rapid home construction, 56% of Chicago residents are renters. Unfortunately, the number of rental units has declined in the face of a population increase. Between 1990 and 1999, the population of Chicago grew by close to 8% while the number of rental units declined by more than 50,000 over than same time period (Metropolitan Planning Council, 2001). Much of the Chicago 21's original plan has been realized since 1973 and there is a dearth of both rental and sale properties that are affordable to the average Chicago resident. The Metropolitan Planning Council reported that the region’s rental vacancy rate currently is at 4.2%, well below the 6% mark for what defines a tight market as set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Source: Local Community Fact Book, Chicago Metropolitan
2000 Census of Population and Housing
The rental market is especially tight for low- and moderate-income families. According to the Metropolitan Planning Council, a family of four in need of a three-bedroom apartment in Chicago would have to make at least $19 per hour to afford the fair market price. Based on 1999 estimates, about one-third of Chicagoans paid more than 50 percent of their income for rent.
The Metropolitan Planning Council also reports that there is a current deficit of 150,000 rental units for families earning under 30% of the median income; which is approximately $20,000 for a family of four in Chicago. The tight rental market is forcing rents up at a rate of twice the consumer price index and three times the rate in some areas such as the north side of Chicago. The lack of housing is aggravated by the fact that the Chicago Housing Authority Transformation Plan, initiated in 1999, has produced a net loss of 13,000 units of public housing, forcing more families to compete in the current rental market.
Home Ownership in Chicago and Logan Square
Times are not easy these days for prospective homebuyers either. The Chicago Association of Realtors reports that since 1996, the sales of condominiums and townhouses have increased 58% and the median cost is over $200,000. At current prices, Chicago residents who earn less than $40,000 a year are automatically excluded from owning a new home.
Within Logan Square, housing prices exceed the city average. During the second quarter of 2001, the median purchase price of homes sold was $241,000 for a single detached home and $209,000 for a single family home. The median price for a single attached (type 2) home, typically a condominium, was $221,000. From 2000-2001, purchase prices increased by 11% for single attached homes, 15% for single detached homes, and 47% for condos.
Logan Square housing prices rose faster than the city average in part because of its proximity to downtown by expressway and public transportation. Its tree-lined streets, parks, and small shops all combine to attract professionals who want the urban experience and are unable to afford homes in more exclusive neighborhoods closer to Lake Michigan and the center of Chicago.
Displacement in Logan Square and LSNA’s Response
In a survey of over 400 Logan Square residents conducted in 1999-2000 by LSNA as part of this research project, 64% reported that their rents had increased and 68% of homeowners said that their real estate taxes had increased. Sixty-six percent said that houses had now become too expensive for them to buy, and almost half the people surveyed knew someone who had to move out of the neighborhood because of increased housing costs.
In spite of pressures from developers and other commercial interests, LSNA feels that displacement is not inevitable. It can be countered by policies that balance development with the maintenance of affordable housing.
While not anti-development, LSNA has taken a public position through its Holistic Plan that calls for actions “to preserve existing housing stock, increase the number of affordable units for rental and homeownership, preserve density, increase local ownership of multi-unit buildings, businesses, and homes and preserve the historic character of the community by constructing new structures that fit with the old.” In addition, the Holistic Plan calls for increasing subsidies for low-income renters and involving public housing residents in the decision-making processes about renovations in their buildings. The effort of LSNA to support balanced development is a vital example of how a community is working to access resources, create responsive institutions, and change policy in order to maintain a mixed-income community where working class people are welcomed.
* Household income is the combined total income of the householder and all other persons who reside in the household. Family income excludes the income of non-related persons living in the household.
Note: Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. The 2000 data in this chart for Non-Hispanic racial categories represent individuals who identified as single race.
Source: 2000 Census of Population and Housing, Local Community Fact Book, Chicago Metropolitan, 1990.http://www.suntimes.com/census
LSNA and its Executive Director
Since 1989, LSNA has increasingly come to address the needs and interests of low- and moderate-income families, many of them immigrants from Latin America, while it also works to develop relationships that unite different segments of the community, including public housing residents, renters, homeowners, local businesses, churches, social service agencies, and other local institutions.
Many LSNA leaders and partners attribute the success of LSNA in bringing together different constituencies to Executive Director, Nancy Aardema's emphasis on building relationships and her leadership style. Nancy came to LSNA in 1989 and became Executive Director a year later. During the three years RFA conducted its research in Logan Square, we encountered universal respect for Nancy. One former president of LSNA, provided us with a detailed explanation of the change in the organization as Nancy put her imprint on LSNA.
When I got involved [in LSNA] we were more in the business of holding government accountable and using tactics of confrontation….I think that Nancy has really adopted a different style, a much more cooperative style.
When I first moved in [in the early 1980s], you either sort of liked LSNA or you didn’t like it. And I think we were kind of seen as kind of just an angry bunch of rowdy radicals. But since that time, our reputation’s changed and a lot of people have grown to appreciate the organization.
When I first got involved there were very few Spanish-speaking people on the board or even involved with LSNA. And she has really cultivated leaders from Spanish-speaking people who live in the neighborhood and brought them into LSNA. I wouldn’t say at the exclusion of other people, but just to reflect their weight of the population. Just as we diversify our activities, we’re reaching out to more people and more people appreciate what we’re doing.
The Development of LSNA’s Holistic Plan
After several years as director of LSNA, Nancy initiated a process that led the community to develop a “Holistic Plan” to guide the many new activities—including education organizing, youth organizing, block clubs, and innovative home ownership programs—that had emerged in the previous few years. Completed in 1994, the Holistic Plan presented a positive vision of the community and brought together the various people who had become involved in LSNA since Aardema began working as Executive Director. Although LSNA had been a multi-issue organizing group since the early 1960s, the Holistic Plan was its first comprehensive long-term plan to rebuild Logan Square. “We decided it’s time to envision the community we want to live in and then build it,” said the chair of LSNA’s Holistic Committee. “We want to build on our many strengths, rather than just react to problems” (LSNA press release, May 5, 1994).
As one past president told us,
It was a gradual thing. It was a process. As we continued to get victories in different areas, we just began to realize that we couldn't be everything at once…So what we did was, we brought the community together…We finally realized that we were just running all different places at the same time. And we needed some kind of filter.
Thirty-four local schools, churches, block clubs, social service agencies—involving seniors and youth, parents and pastors, teachers, residents, and businesses—worked together for over two years in small committees and large groups to set forth a specific agenda for building a healthier and more stable neighborhood. The first Holistic Plan included eight resolutions relating to education, housing, safety, and jobs. Since 1994, the Holistic Plan, which is revised annually, has functioned as a roadmap and a unifying vision for the organization.
Each year at the annual May Congress, the newly revised Holistic Plan is presented and ratified by the LSNA membership. Early in the fall, the Executive Board appoints a "Core Committee," which includes LSNA leaders, staff, and other community members, who begin the process of the yearly evaluation of the Holistic Plan. At an October meeting the Core Committee and representatives of each of LSNA's issue committees start a process of brainstorming, visioning, and reflection. During the winter and early spring, issue committees continue their organizing work, but also reflect on what is working and what isn't, make suggestions for new strategies, and write new resolutions. In addition, during this time, groups of leaders may decide to present resolutions that establish new issue committees. In March, the Core Committee meets again, refines the resolutions, and ensures that the organization is presenting a consistent vision for change.
This elaborate process creates a well-defined democratic arena in which people with different types of skills and goals are able to participate. Parents have an opportunity to participate in the education committee and also dialogue with principals. Low-income renters participate in the affordable housing committee, the banks continue their work in a committee known as the Reinvestment Coalition, started a decade ago to solicit the involvement of local banks, and all of this work is integrated through the Core Committee.
In addition to providing a vision for the community, the Plan enhances visibility, as LSNA interacts with agencies, administrators, funders, and the Chicago media. A former LSNA president, subsequently director of the neighborhood Y, describes the value of the Holistic Plan.
The Holistic Plan forces us to interact with each other…And we come up with very creative solutions and look at how we can best utilize our resources. It also has the influence to [get] the attention of the mayor or president of the Board of Education. We will have their support because they know we’re all working together. And that has a lot of credibility with funders, too.
Despite the respect Nancy Aardema receives, LSNA’s views are not universally supported in the neighborhood. While LSNA's work in improving schools and enhancing social services is widely appreciated, its positions on housing and economic development are contested by several of the local aldermen, as well as by small groups of businessmen affiliated with local politicians. In addition, we have spoken with individual homeowners and members of other neighborhood groups who state that LSNA's current emphasis on the importance of affordable housing is not in the interests of homeowners who can benefit from rising property values. Even among those who agree with LSNA's current campaign for greater public control of development, there are differences of viewpoint. For example, there is sometimes tension between LSNA's focus on the need for affordable housing for low-income residents and middle-class groups who oppose development because it would undermine the traditional aesthetics and architecture of the neighborhood.
In spite of these differences, LSNA is widely recognized as a strong voice for the community. One of the skills Aardema brings as Executive Director is her ability to listen seriously to the various concerns of individuals and groups of people and then find places for them to play a meaningful part within LSNA. At the same time she has pursued a sustained effort to encourage those members of the community whose voices are rarely heard to assume more prominent positions in the leadership of LSNA. Some people who were once more vocal within LSNA have gone elsewhere to express their views and pursue their agendas. Not everyone in Logan Square sees LSNA as its main voice, and those who wish for more political advocacy have joined or founded other organizations (e.g., Progressive Logan Square). It is important to keep in mind that Logan Square has a population of over 83,000 residents, so the notion of “neighborhood” is somewhat simplistic. There are tensions and problems associated with representing that many people and their multiple interests and agendas. The fact that over the past 13 years LSNA has been working to promote inclusion and engage as many segments of the population as it can helps the organization to adapt to changing conditions, demographics and issues facing the neighborhood.
In addition to 47 organizations that are currently represented on the board of LSNA, hundreds of other local organizations and individuals support LSNA through grassroots fundraising efforts which strengthen the organization financially and bolster its legitimacy by connecting it to a web of businesses, organizations, and individuals. The structure of the Holistic Plan allows individuals multiple entry points for their particular concerns and skills and opens up extensive arenas for democratic participation in the annual process of evaluating and revising the Plan. Today, LSNA's membership (and its Board) consists of individuals and organizations who advocate a highly participatory democratic process, a change from the pre-Aardema years when strong individuals held major sway without necessarily representing large numbers of other community members.
In May 1999, when RFA began its research, the LSNA board was made up of representatives of seven issue committees and 47 local organizations, including churches, social service agencies, schools, businesses, and block clubs. In addition to the general board, which meets quarterly, an executive board is nominated and elected every May.
RFA's observations indicate that because of LSNA’s broad range of members, there are often differing interests or opinions among LSNA members or committees that represent different perspectives. For example, at one Core Committee meeting, an organizer working with the affordable rental committee argued that the Holistic Plan should call for required “set-asides” (a certain percentage of affordable housing) in all new development in Logan Square. A member of the Reinvestment Coalition, representing banks within Logan Square, questioned whether LSNA could establish a motivation for developers to respect the set-aside rule. In what could have been a tense exchange, their dialogue instead took place with good humor and the issue was resolved through an agreement that the Holistic Plan was establishing shared goals for the organization, even if all the strategies for reaching them had not been hammered out. By the following year, the organization had decided to support set-asides as part of the Holistic Plan. In the following chapter on LSNA’s work in schools, we present another example of how LSNA dealt with differences between members with different roles and points of view. That example concerns the development of a campaign, initiated by parents, to encourage teachers to treat children with greater respect.
Working-class community members, especially women, talk often about being supported and encouraged to take on active leadership roles. The first president elected after Aardema became director of LSNA explained to us that as a working-class woman who felt she had never been listened to before, she appreciated the newfound power she experienced from being encouraged to become president of the organization.
I was afraid to do it, but Nancy encouraged me. She coached me, she helped me figure out what was going to happen at the meetings, and finally I learned that I could do it on my own.
Throughout the three-year period of our research, we have seen this dynamic repeated as new leaders and officers of LSNA emerge. When RFA first began its research, many of LSNA's strongest leaders had taken staff positions in the LSNA school-based programs, and the organizers expressed some concern about whether the organization would be able to continue to recruit the officers it needed to lead the organization. However, the leadership group has continued to regenerate itself. The new leadership group is diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. A majority of new officers each year are low-to-moderate income Latinas, many of whom first become involved with LSNA through its school-based programs. At the time of publication, the leadership group expanded to include three Latino men.
RFA has not been able to determine the socio-economic background of all board members, but an analysis of those whom we met during our first year of research indicated an interesting mix of social and economic backgrounds and suggested the richness of the social network that LSNA has created. In 1999, three LSNA board members were Latino or African American parents without extensive formal education. Another was a Latina parent who became a professional organizer after her experience with LSNA. Three other board members (two white and one Latino) were professionals who worked in local institutions and who also lived in Logan Square. Finally three board members (two white and one Latino) whom we met were professionals who live in the neighborhood, but work elsewhere.
The executive board at the time we began our research in 1999 consisted of two Latina women, two Latino men, one white man, and one African American man. Of these, one woman opened up a home daycare center through LSNA's small business incubator, two officers had gotten involved through their work as parents and community members in LSNA schools, one officer was an employee at an LSNA school, one was a high school student, one was a compliance officer at a local bank and another one was the operations manager for a local high school. Since the first year of RFA's research, LSNA has successfully recruited new board members and officers, continuing to draw on many different sectors of the Logan Square community.
While Logan Square may not be a "typical" low-income community because of the economic diversity it encompasses, an analysis of the strengths and challenges of LSNA's capacity building efforts in Logan Square provides valuable insights that can inform capacity building efforts in other low-income neighborhoods.
By using four lenses to look at LSNA's approach—relationship building, leadership development, democratic participation, and building power and changing policy—RFA aims to elucidate the features of LSNA's work which contribute to an understanding of how to develop the capacity of low-income and under-served communities.
Hess (Hess, 1999) has provided a useful analysis of community-capacity building which identifies three major types of practices. These three types are: community organizing, which focuses on political mobilization; community building, which focuses on developing a vision and identifying resources within the community; and community development, which focuses on providing the technical expertise necessary to mediate between community needs and outside funders. A corollary of this analysis is that communities must both look inward at their strengths (as advocated by Kretzmann and McKnight, 1993) and look outward in order to access resources and challenge problematic policies and power dynamics.
The four lenses of relationship building, leadership development, democratic participation, building power and changing policy provide a way of looking at LSNA’s work that captures the complexity of the process of building community capacity. In addition, the four lenses that we have identified help us look at the endeavor of building community capacity as a way of building on existing social and organizational strengths in order to create new forms of social action and community involvement.