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 |

Chapter IV:  LSNA—Building Community Capacity through a Sustained Campaign for Affordable Housing



As LSNA celebrates its 40th anniversary, the organization confronts the challenge of main­taining affordable housing in the midst of the rising tide of gentrification. (LSNA Holistic Plan, 2002) 

LSNA's 2002 Holistic Plan addresses the need for affordable rental housing, the need for affordable home ownership, the importance of working across Chicago to respond to displacement brought about through gentrification, and the right of current public housing residents to be involved in planning the rehabilitation of their homes.

These are difficult issues, as over time so many neighborhoods in Chicago have “turned over,” much of their earlier character and characteristics washed away by gentrification. 

In our three and a half years of research, RFA observed LSNA’s hard work associated with developing new grassroots leaders and clarifying its vision and strategy for an affordable housing campaign.  During this period, new leaders came to LSNA from a variety of personal and political entry points.  Some of the housing leaders who we identified during the course of our research were:

  1. Roxanne Tyler, once homeless and formerly a resident of Lathrop Homes, a public housing project run by the Chicago Housing Authority. Roxanne met Nancy Aardema (through her church).  She was able to take advantage of LSNA's affordable homeownership program to buy half of a two-flat home for herself and her children.  Roxanne is now fighting to keep her house and her identity as a homeowner within a neighborhood where up-scale condos are quickly becoming a norm. 
  2. Dawn Houston, a recently separated mother who faced being forced out of Logan Square due to rising rents but who was able to qualify for the Low Income Housing Trust Fund.  Drawing on her anger over the injustice of unfair housing costs and policies, she now speaks out for others who are struggling to find and keep affordable rents. 
  3. Lesszest Page, a long-time resident of Lathrop Homes who emerged as a leader and began organizing tenants at Lathrop.  Lesszest describes the hard work required on the part of both organizers and public housing residents for residents to believe that they have a right to define their own needs and interests.  She describes her role as being a mother-figure and friend to the other residents, as she seeks the spark that will encourage their confidence to get involved and speak out.
  4. Father Mike Herman, a Catholic priest who deliberately chose a parish in Logan Square because his personal mission included fighting for affordable housing and social justice for low-income and minority citizens.

The stories of these leaders, and others, which we will tell in this chapter, highlight the work LSNA does in developing community leadership and helping individuals connect their experiences to the issues and needs of the broader community.  As a new group of leaders emerged, the organization began to connect specific individual issues into a community-wide vision for affordable housing.  At the same time, LSNA, as part of the Balanced Development Coalition, a coalition of seven neighborhood and citywide groups, has articulated a position calling for balanced development for all of Chicago.  Initially the Coalition included downtown groups that supported policy changes for affordable housing but were not engaged in community organizing.  LSNA has worked successfully to ensure that the coalition’s membership consists of community-based organizations representing constituents who will turn out for public actions. 

Over RFA’s three years of research, we observed a shift in the emphasis of LSNA’s affordable housing campaign from opposing “gentrification” to supporting “balanced development.”  An organization’s stated platform may signal how that organization is positioning itself in political and policy spheres and whether the group is open to discussion about public or private development. 

In order to understand the implications of the shift in LSNA’s housing campaign, it may be useful to clarify the meaning of key terms as they are used here.  “Gentrification” refers to a process of neighborhood change that involves an influx of higher-income residents accompanied by an increase in real estate values and the displacement of lower-income residents.  However, development and the introduction of new resources can occur in a neighborhood without displacement of current residents.  For example, new residents with higher incomes may buy and upgrade vacant buildings, and new businesses can help to enhance or “revitalize” commercial sections.

By supporting “balanced development,” LSNA can support neighborhood improvement and still oppose gentrification (displacement).  LSNA’s simultaneous opposition to gentrification and support for balanced development indicate that although the organization is fighting the displacement of low-income community residents, it is open to negotiation about selective development projects.

The balanced development platform, which LSNA is currently asking elected officials to endorse, would require 30% of units in all new development, rehabs, and condominiums to be set aside as affordable units, with up to 50% of the set-asides being made available as affordable rental properties for individuals earning 50% or less of the area median income. (See appendices for a copy of the platform.)  Through conducting fieldwork as this balanced development position was evolving, RFA was able to document how this community organization negotiated a relatively unified position around a contentious and difficult issue. 

According to our interviewees, the major opposition to the balanced development position came from two quarters.  On the one hand, some people within LSNA raised questions about whether stopping development would make the neighborhood undesirable.  On the other hand, some opposed all development on the grounds that it would destroy the architectural and historical quality of the neighborhood.  According to these interviewees and from our observations, as the years progressed, most people in Logan Square and in LSNA came to see some development as inevitable.  At the same time, people became more articulate about the need to stop displacement.  According to recently conducted interviews with LSNA staff, leaders in the organization realize that there is little in the balanced development platform that will help them directly because of the small number of so-called affordable units and the income ceiling for these units.  However, they see this policy’s value in the context of a broader campaign which includes new affordable home ownership programs, support for rental subsidies, tax abatements, and advocacy for public housing residents.  Participation in the citywide Balanced Development Coalition is a way to strategize and produce public actions that challenge public officials and private developers to take a stance against rampant displacement. 

In addition to helping to form the Balanced Develop­ment Coalition, during the past three years of research, LSNA leaders have:

  1. won an additional $500,000 in direct assistance for rental subsidies for low income families,
  2. stopped the development of an unwanted Burger King in the neighborhood,
  3. worked with residents of the public housing project Lathrop Homes to create a committee to play a proactive role in decisions affecting that Chicago Housing Authority property, and
  4. organized a Housing Summit that attracted over 500 people.

LSNA’s Strategies for Supporting Neighborhood Stability


LSNA's current work, which builds on 40 years of work on housing issues, has strengthened the neighborhood as a whole and increased housing options for low- and moderate-income families.

  1. Resources in the form of private and public funding for home improvements and home ownership.  In 1994, LSNA partnered with neighborhood banks to develop an innovative homeownership program through which 45 low- and moderate-income families have been able to buy homes.  In the past year, LSNA has collaborated with funders, with the Bickerdike Community Development Corporation, and with Chicago Mutual Housing to create a housing cooperative which has already enrolled sixteen families who are currently looking for an appropriate building to buy.
  2. Transformation of rundown apartment buildings into attractive, well-maintained subsidized housing.  In the 1970s and 1980s, LSNA collaborated with Hispanic Housing, Bickerdike, and other development groups to convert hundreds of units to nonprofit housing and to ensure that qualified residents were allowed to stay in them. 
  3. Winning access to rental subsidies which assist low-income renters.  In the past two years, LSNA has attained rental subsidies for 64 units by enrolling landlords in Chicago's Low Income Housing Trust Fund (LIHTF), which provides rental subsidies to qualified landlords, who pass the savings on to qualified tenants.
  4. Offering counseling and workshops.  During the period of our research, hundreds of people have participated in counseling, workshops, and fairs about home equity conversion mortgages, default/foreclosures, rental or pre-purchase concerns, and the process of challenging tax assessments. 

According to one local activist who has been involved with LSNA for over 20 years, LSNA's housing work over that time can be divided into four phases. The work evolved as the organization responded to changes within the neighborhood. 

Early to Late 1970s—Housing Development

In its earliest years, LSNA promoted community capacity by working with local banks to provide loans for home improvements and partnering with other organizations to attain state and federal funding for converting several large, rundown apartment buildings into subsidized housing.  According to Paul Gilroy, a community bank representative, “I don’t know that you would say it [Logan Square] was a real choice area in the 1960s and maybe the early seventies.”  At this time, the majority of LSNA's members were white homeowners, although the organization worked closely with social service agencies and churches to address the concerns of the growing Latino population.  Looking back over this period, one community leader told us, "In a lot of ways what the organization has been doing has been self-defeating, because we’ve been improving the neighborhood so much,"  (as the neighborhood improved concomitant with increases in rental and home purchase prices, some housing became less affordable for low-income residents).

While LSNA was working to improve housing options for low- and middle-income renters and homeowners, "urban pioneers" (mainly young white professionals) also showed an increasing interest in rehabilitating the graystone mansions lining Logan Square’s boulevards.  During this period, LSNA’s efforts were aligned with the efforts of other constituencies—such as the city, historic preservationists, and developers—who were trying to improve the quality of the housing stock in Logan Square. 

Between 1970 and 1980, the parts of Logan Square outside the boulevard areas completed a transition, started during the 1960s, from a largely White/ Eastern European, working-class neighborhood to a predominantly Latino neighbor­hood (Padilla, 1993).  As of 1970, about 17% of Logan Square residents were Latino (U.S. Census, 1970).  By 1980, 66% of Logan Square's population was Latino—of Puerto Rican, Mexican or Cuban descent—a figure that has stayed fairly constant over the subsequent 20 years.  Thus, the improvement of the housing stock and rehabilitation of some of the most expensive and historic homes in the neighborhood happened during the same ten-year period in which neighborhood demographics shifted from a majority white to a majority Latino community..

Late 1970s to mid-1980s—Tenant Issues 

During this next period, LSNA debated how to position itself in relation to groups who were working to make Logan Square more attractive to outsiders.  After an internal struggle, the organization distanced itself from efforts that it believed would lead to displacement of current neighborhood residents and focused on organizing tenants.  During this period, LSNA pressured inspectors to survey buildings in poor condition and used evidence from inspection in testimony against the landlords.  LSNA urged the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to develop and maintain buildings—including scattered-site housing—so that low-income residents could find decent, affordable housing.  In response to pressure from LSNA and other neighborhood organizations, some “slum” buildings were demolished and some new affordable houses erected.  LSNA continued to focus on upgrading the housing and rental stock in the area, but also started to organize to ensure that current tenants had access to the new and upgraded buildings, whether they were commercial or managed by nonprofit development corporations.

In 1980, efforts to maintain Logan Square's historic architecture were also furthered by the creation of the Logan Square Historic Preservation Society.  In 1985, the Preservation Society was successful in its efforts to have the Federal government designate the boulevards as a historic district.  This eventually led to increases in housing values on the boulevards as low-interest historic preservation loans, not available to other Logan Square residents, became available for renovation to homeowners along the boulevard.

1980s to 1990s—Creative Approaches to Homeownership 

A large part of LSNA’s agenda in the next period moved toward helping low- and moderate-income people to buy homes.  LSNA conducted research about the lending patterns of local banks, held community meetings, and asked banks to work with them to support affordable homeownership.  Results of these efforts included: a long-term partnership with Liberty Bank; the creation of the Reinvestment Coalition (an LSNA subcommittee composed of representatives of local banks); and an innovative homeownership program through which several families could pool their resources and receive mortgages to purchase two-to-four flat buildings.  Teaming up with the Illinois Housing Development Authority and the Federal Home Loan Bank, LSNA and Liberty Bank worked together for eighteen months until the first jointly-held mortgages for multiple families became available.  Because the plan required changes in state lending laws, both LSNA and Liberty Bank advocated for the necessary policy changes by the Illinois Housing Development Authority.  Ultimately they were able to assist families through low interest rates, no points, and assistance with closing cost.  Modeled after LSNA’s initial work, the Greater West Side Homeownership, a similar program covering a larger geographical area, has helped low-income families in other parts of Chicago purchase homes.

Approximately one dozen banks represented in the Reinvestment Coalition also supported an innovative homeownership program for teachers who work in the neighborhood, offering subsidies or low-interest mortgages to encourage teachers to purchase homes in Logan Square.  From 1997 to 1999, when the program was adopted citywide by the Chicago Board of Education, the LSNA teacher homeownership program helped fifteen teachers take advantage of the options provided by the banks to move into the neighborhood.  Living in the neighborhood has helped to reduce the teachers’ commute times and increase their interaction with the local community.  The Reinvestment Coalition continues to hold housing fairs and provide seminars on tenant and housing issues.  LSNA’s housing counselor, Esteban Flores, estimates that LSNA staff have worked with members of the Reinvestment Coalition to counsel thousands of people on housing issues.  

Current—Multiple Approaches to Affordable Housing 

LSNA has maintained a focus on helping make homeownership and rental units affordable in Logan Square.  By the late 1990s, LSNA also began developing new strategies to maintain affordable housing in the face of the increasing presence of developers, the conversion of rental properties into condominiums, and rapidly rising housing prices, rents, and property taxes.  While LSNA's creative homeownership programs had been successful in expanding the number of low-income people who became homeowners, LSNA's staff, leaders, and member organizations realized that they needed a new strategy to produce a group of leaders that would mobilize against the rapid gentrification of the community.  In 1999, shortly before RFA began its research, LSNA hired a new housing organizer with the explicit goal of developing grassroots leadership for a community-wide campaign for affordable housing in Logan Square.

Today, LSNA is organizing on many fronts.  It has developed community leaders who have formed a Housing Committee, with subcommittees to work on issues such as land use and zoning, affordable rents, public housing, and reinvestment. 

LSNA's community leaders bring with them their own experiences of struggling to remain in a neighborhood they care about, their anger at being disrespected and deceived by public officials and housing developers, and a desire to work for social justice. 

Using the Four Lenses

Looking through the four lenses of relationship building, leadership development, democratic participation, and building power and changing policy, we see that LSNA is gaining momentum in its campaign to maintain affordable housing in Logan Square.  LSNA is successfully cultivating a new generation of activists and leaders in the arena of housing; it is building on its long-term relationships with neighborhood churches, banks, schools, and social service agencies to develop a broad-based campaign for affordable housing; and it is integrating local, neighborhood-based efforts into a citywide campaign to change Chicago's development policies.

The next section examines LSNA's work through the lens of relationship building.  We have seen LSNA develop a new set of relationships with community members who have become leaders in the campaign for affordable housing.  We have also observed the importance (to its housing work) of LSNA's longstanding relationship with local banks and churches.  The following section examines LSNA through the lens of leadership development.  In this section, we explore how individuals take on leadership roles within the housing campaign and within the organization.  We see how individuals' commitments to public action and the public good are key aspects of leadership, and how these commitments developed in particular through LSNA's work with the Low Income Housing Trust Fund.  The lens of democratic participation shows us how different constituencies within LSNA have come together to develop a shared agenda and vision in spite of their differing interests.  Finally, through the lens of building power and changing policies we see how LSNA has mounted a vigorous and sustained housing campaign and how, as a result, the organization’s position on balanced development is slowly gaining attention and legitimacy within policy circles.

Building Relationships

In this section we discuss the evolving relationships between organizers and community members, as well as the building of relationships with different groups and institutions in Logan Square around housing issues.

Building Relationships between Organizers and Community Members

In the late 1990s, LSNA's housing organizer, who had initiated and implemented LSNA's successful homeownership program, left LSNA.  The organization took this as an opportunity to initiate a new approach to housing organizing, with an explicit focus on identifying community members who would be able to take leadership roles in a new campaign for affordable housing.  The first step in this process was to begin talking with community members about their concerns and their perceptions of the problems facing the neighborhood.  The new organizer, Andrea Friedman, found that people involved with LSNA through its school reform work were very aware of issues related to housing.  As she began to do door-to-door outreach, Andrea found that people were quite welcoming and brought her into their homes.  As Andrea described these initial contacts:

A lot of people did see that there were issues with housing.  For many of them, they were kind of diffuse and not immediate.  Or they were affecting someone in their extended family, but they figured that they could deal with the issue.  I think that it [the conversation] was important because it put the issue higher up on their list of things to notice, just the fact that I was there, talking about it. I think that it’s crucial for this kind of campaign to have different layers and degrees of support from the community.  So just having people more aware of, sympathetic, or having more information on the issue, having thought about it, even if just in conversation, is going to help and make them more likely to come out for an action.

As she built relationships, Andrea began working more closely with people whom she identified as potential leaders.  One example is Dawn Houston, who first heard about LSNA at a critical time in her life.  According to Dawn,

When I first became involved with LSNA, I was a single mom and was suddenly going to have to pay the rent on my own.  A family friend gave me Andrea’s phone number and she told me about the LIHTF.[13]

After Andrea helped Dawn obtain a subsidy, Andrea and Dawn developed an ongoing relationship of trust and reciprocity.  As Dawn explains,

I was the last person to receive money from it [LIHTF] because the funds were used up.  Knowing how much it would help me and that other people were in need of it, I agreed to work to keep the fund going.  I also did it because there is a subtle “class” intimidation out there that says, “if you’re on a subsidy, you have no right to speak for yourself.”  Keeping involved was easy because Andrea treated me as her equal and we learned from each other.

Across the board, LSNA housing activists have told us about the impact of being in a relationship with organizers who listen to them and take their concerns seriously.

Roxanne Tyler is a former public housing resident who was able to purchase her own home through LSNA's affordable homeownership program, she is currently a leader in LSNA's land use and zoning committee.  Like Dawn, Roxanne described a sense of interest and respect from Nancy Aardema and Liala Buekema,[14] the pastor of her church.

Whatever the issues in the community were at the time, we’d meet on a pretty regular basis, trying to talk about those things, trying to figure out what we wanted.  And that process started out in a nice way in which we did lots of interviews.  I think Nancy interviewed us and it was just so outrageous to me.  “Why do you want to know what I want?  Oh my gosh, someone wants to know what I want!”  Just asking those sorts of questions–“what do you want for yourself here?  How do you see yourself here?  What are the problems here for you?”  And she did that with a lot of people in our church.…I never felt pressured; I felt they were engaged with me personally.

LSNA's approach to building relationships between organizers and community members is especially important in its work with Lathrop Homes, a Chicago Housing Authority project adjacent to Logan Square proper that houses roughly 2,000 residents.

Technically speaking, Lathrop Homes is not within the geographic boundaries of Logan Square.  However LSNA staff and many leaders have felt it very important to make an intensive effort to include Lathrop residents in LSNA and develop leaders at Lathrop.  Nancy Aardema first began reaching out to Lathrop about ten years ago, when it became clear to her that addressing the issues and needs of Lathrop is consistent with, and in fact called for by, LSNA’s mission.

Lathrop residents are in some ways similar to and in some ways different from the lower-income sector of Logan Square’s population.  While low-income Logan Square residents are primarily Latino, Lathrop is almost exclusively African American.  Because of the experience of living in public housing, Lathrop residents have possibly a more extreme sense of disempowerment and lack of influence over the circumstances of their lives.  Yet low-income residents of Logan Square and those from Lathrop share a vulnerability to displacement as development continues in the area and housing costs rise.  At the time our research began, Lathrop residents were at risk of losing their homes due to a planned citywide program for renovation of public housing which would make 75% of units unavailable to current residents.

LSNA currently has an organizer, Lesszest George, who works with residents of Lathrop and has lived there most of her life.  Before she became an LSNA staff member, LSNA organizers worked hard to develop a relationship with Lesszest, and she is now continuing that process of bringing in new people.

As Lesszest explains, it is difficult to recruit active members at Lathrop because so many people there feel powerless and passive, without experience or validation in asserting their needs and rights.

I’ll be totally honest with you.  It’s hard.  Let me make something clear.  I can get a lot of people out to housing meetings but it doesn’t mean, because I have a room full of people, that they all feel they have the right.  Yes, they want to change it, but they don’t feel just then that they have the right.  So, just because they come out to the meeting, you still have to work on them because every now and then that’s a comfort zone.  The system has made that comfort zone where they’ll say, “I’ll just sit and let my life be dictated to me.”  And so anytime you have to step outside of that you’re afraid.

Lesszest described the time it takes to actually reach people.

You can’t ask them "what do you want to do in life?"  That’s not the approach you can give them.  You sit there and talk to them and out of that one-on-one you hear what they want.  And then you start to rock, cradle what they want to do.  Show them. 

She gave us an example of a parent mentor she had been working with for a year and a half who lacked the self-confidence to become involved in activities outside her home until Lesszest encouraged her to teach a sewing class at the new community center Lesszest was helping to establish near Lathrop Homes.  Lesszest told us,

So we’re going to open up a sewing class that she can run.  And, you know, it’s like a dream for her …that’s something that she loves.  And when you find something that they love to do, you don’t have any more worries, because this is what they want to do.  I don’t have to worry about her coming to work every day.…And once you start doing things like that, once they start believing in the organization or what have you because they see you’re trying to get help them get focused on the right track; someplace they couldn’t get to [on their own]…

Building Relationships across Groups and Organizations

At the same time that LSNA works to build relationships with individuals it also works to build relationships across constituencies.  For example, both renters and homeowners are represented on LSNA’s housing subcommittees.  Meetings are conducted and official documents are translated into Spanish and English.  LSNA also builds relationships with other organizations and institutions.

LSNA's relationship with Lathrop is a good example of the potential and challenges in building relationships that cross over traditional boundaries.  LSNA and Lathrop have worked together to attain some important victories, including attracting well-paying jobs to an industrial site adjacent to Lathrop Homes and insuring that the voices of public housing residents are heard in the process of Chicago Housing Authority’s planning for renovations of their homes.  LSNA organizers consistently maintain relationships with the residents of Lathrop Homes and LSNA leaders include the needs and rights of public housing residents as part of the wide set of issues that form the broad organizational agenda around housing. 

The involvement of Marc Joffe, an Anglo property owner, and others like him, provides another example of a cross-group relationship.  A local business person and lifetime Logan Square resident, Marc Joffe has developed a relationship with LSNA as well as with other local groups like the Historic Preservation Society, which are much less likely than LSNA to advocate on behalf of low-income Logan Square residents.  Marc, like many other middle-class Logan Square residents, opposed zoning changes which he believed would undermine the aesthetic and historical character of the neighborhood.  Before his involvement with LSNA, Marc helped to form a group of neighbors opposed to building a series of condos on a parcel of land near his house, which was also near the LSNA office.  When LSNA heard about this organizing effort, they also became involved.  In Marc's words, 

We had people from the preservation sector, and for lack of a better term, we had people from the right wing of development and also the lot that wanted to see affordable housing.  My personal feeling is that there is room for all of that here.

In Marc's view, LSNA does not only represent Latinos or poor people, it represents the welfare of the neighborhood.  Since his initial contacts with LSNA, Marc and other middle class homeowners who work with him have been building relationships with LSNA based on shared interests.  Now Marc offers his expertise to educate other LSNA members about zoning ordinances.

An example of relationship building across organizations is the one between LSNA and the local community banks, Liberty Bank and Community Savings Bank.  According to bank officer Paul Gilroy, small banks like Liberty and Community Savings survive because of their attention to their customers.  They invest in the community and, because they cannot offer a diversity of services which would compete with the big banks, they emphasize personal service.  In turn, they are rewarded by the loyalty of their clients. 

As Community Reinvestment Compliance Officers at Liberty Bank and Community Savings, Paul Gilroy and Nelson Bridges help to support community development officers and have had relationships with LSNA throughout their tenure in their current jobs.  Their relationships with LSNA go well beyond that required by their jobs; both Paul Gilroy and Nelson Bridges served on the LSNA Reinvestment Committee, participated as elected LSNA officers, have developed new collaborative projects (such as the current plan for cooperative home ownership), and participate in strategic planning through LSNA's Core Committee and planning process.

Over the years, LSNA has also cultivated relationships with the local churches and religious groups throughout Logan Square, frequently building relationships through participation in shared worship and social exchanges.  In the past, the churches played leadership roles in LSNA's housing work, especially during the years when the organization focused on tenant organizing.  Currently, nine churches are organizational members of LSNA.  We observed local pastors participating as Core Committee members, officiating at annual Congresses, and providing space for large LSNA meetings.  We also observed in depth LSNA’s unfolding relationship with one of the local Catholic parishes, through its connection with the pastor of St. Sylvester’s, Father Mike Herman. 

Father Mike told us he came to Logan Square in large part because he wanted to fight for affordable housing, an approach he believes is consistent with the views of the Catholic Church.  Father Mike offers much to LSNA's work on affordable housing.  Though an Anglo, he is fluent in Spanish and conducts mass in both languages.  He is much loved in his parish and is passionate about both Chicago and his role as a moral leader in his community. 

Father Mike's position as a priest gives a sense of moral authority to his stance on the issue of affordable development.  What he also brings to the work of LSNA is an established constituency—his congregation.  Speaking out on issues of justice, fairness, and community are well within his charge as a parish priest, and he has the backing of Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago, (who has made public statements calling for fair and affordable housing for the poor).  Additionally, as Father Mike puts it:

…because of my role as a leader and a religious leader in the community, I am very much a person of action.…whenever there is an action, I really try to be there. 

Like other professionals who have taken leadership roles in LSNA, Father Mike has learned that there are times when he needs to step back.  He has recognized how hard it is for low-income people to take leadership within their own community:

You know when you’re fighting to feed your family and to keep your kids off the streets you don’t have as much energy to fight to get the street paved in front of your house or to make sure, even to know who to talk to about [it].  I think LSNA has helped tremendously by training local leaders but it’s a slow process.  The housing committee is a slow process.  …

At times during our research, Father Mike was frustrated by the pace of LSNA's style of community organizing and by the local politicians' lack of responsiveness.

I’ve been to meetings with the community and I hold back and I hold back and finally I speak up because I see what politicians can do to people who don’t.  [In our community] they take people at their word and [the politician’s] word is, “Well, we’re doing all we can.  There’s really no money available.”  Well, I know that’s not true.  I know that the money goes where they want it to go and we have to hold people accountable to that.  That’s why we stuck to LSNA.

While Father Mike is committed to the work LSNA is doing, he also fears that it is not proceeding quickly enough to avert a crisis for his parishioners and other community members. 

I get frustrated with LSNA because sometimes it’s a slow, unmoving process because they’re working with community leaders.  But that’s also where I develop my respect for them because they work so hard to develop community leaders.  But the politicians also know how they can play off of that.  They know that the pace of [leadership] development doesn’t correspond with the pace of other developments, and that’s why I think it is a crisis situation.

Benefits of Relationship Building and Challenges Faced

The work of relationship building has both advantages and challenges. Among the advantages are authentic grassroots leaders who come from the neighborhood, so when they speak they truly represent their community and its experiences.  They can speak with a combination of knowledge, passion, and moral courage.  In terms of housing issues, one of the challenges is that LSNA's adversaries, the developers and their lawyers and political allies, do not need grassroots support.  Opponents of affordable housing are already well-educated, well-spoken and are powerful players at the table.  They don’t need to represent a constituency.  Because the methods LSNA employs to build relationships require lots of work and time, by the time enough leaders are ready to assert themselves and to represent the community in substantive ways, the neighborhood or significant portions of it may have already irreversibly changed.

Leadership Development

The ways in which LSNA operationalizes leadership and fosters leadership development are intimately linked to its goal of building capacity, first through enhancing the capacity of individuals and later through what those emergent leaders offer to the larger community.  LSNA’s leadership training helps community members to develop their own perspectives and become comfortable expressing their experiences and beliefs in ways that resonate with the people they represent. 

As leaders begin to feel a connection between their own experiences and needs and those of the community they become more willing to be held publicly accountable to those of the people they represent. 

For example, housing leader Roxanne Tyler described her own efforts to organize her neighbors and what it meant to shoulder some leadership responsibility.

…I’m really a naïve person a lot of times.  When I first moved in here I thought, “Oh, let’s just have everyone come over to the house, sit and we’ll talk.”  Because I’m thinking that I’m still in Lathrop and I can do that with my friends there. …So I was thinking, let’s get some people together.  Let’s do a block club kind of thing.  Let’s get organized.  And there were people saying, “Yeah that sounds great, but I don’t want to meet every month.”  And I’m kind of, you know, I don’t either because I work full-time.  I’ve got three kids.  I want to go to school.  I’m involved with my church. I’m involved with my community.  One more meeting, how do you do it?  But when these issues come up it seems that it’s the only thing to do, the only thing you can do.

When we asked Dawn Houston, how someone becomes a leader, she explained that becoming a leader means taking on responsibility for the community’s needs.

You take responsibility for your life and become an example for others.  By doing this, we acknowledge our responsibility, first to ourselves and then to the community.  Because if I had just sat there and said, “Okay I have the subsidy.  I don’t need to call you anymore” and just worried about myself, that’s not a leader.  You have to think of other people and what’s going on.  Because it does affect you too, what’s going on around you.  I can take the subsidy and then next year have to move because the rents go up again.  LSNA is not going to solve our problems for us.  We have to do it ourselves. …You have to solve your problems yourself, but they give us support and teach us how to strategize better.

Andrea, LSNA's housing organizer during most of our research, described how she has worked with the community to develop a housing campaign.  Her community outreach has involved trying to identify issues that reach to the heart of the community and people who were willing to make commitments to work on them.  She had had a series of one-on-ones and community meetings dealing with issues such as predatory lending and another set of meetings with landlords who were interested in maintaining low-income tenants.  The strategy that really took off was an opportunity for LSNA to introduce community members to the Low Income Housing Trust Fund (LIHTF) that the city established to help subsidize rents. 

The city began to market the LIHTF at the same time that LSNA was preparing to conduct a survey of its own to determine the extent of community members’ interest in more general housing issues (e.g., home-ownership, tenant rights).  The announcement of the LIHTF gave LSNA organizers the opportunity to advertise the LIHTF while they conducted their surveys.  This sparked people’s interest; neighbor­hood residents who needed assistance could turn to LSNA as a broker for information on how to apply to the city for the LIHTF.  Because of the bureaucratic nature of the application process, many of these people who needed help, even if they were really desperate, would not have applied directly through the Department of Housing.

When asked to look back at her tenure as the housing organizer and to tell us whether there was one story of relationship building that evolved into leadership development, Andrea immediately cited Dawn, who became involved as a leader when the city planned to end its rental subsidies.  As the following quote from Andrea shows, Dawn was angry, she had a strong sense that injustice was occurring, and she was willing to make a commitment to work on affordable rental housing as a community issue, in spite of the fact that she still had to find a place to live herself. 

I invited [Dawn] to dinner and sat her down and said, “I know you’re really mad about this.  I know this really matters to you.  What are you going to do about it?”  And we sort of talked through how much it meant to her until she came to a point.  I was like propositioning her.  It was like, “Okay, is this for real or are you just here?”  And she said yes, it was a commitment; which doesn’t mean that it was an easy thing.  I think she still struggles with it. …She was really the first leader that wasn’t formerly an LSNA leader who was there to form a committee.

And I don’t think she ever imagined before that she would need a rental subsidy, and so that distinguished her from the other people who didn’t know that they would need a rental subsidy but who were always struggling, for whom that’s kind of what life is like. If it’s not one thing it’s another.

And [for Dawn] the injustice of it really struck her and that was distinguishing.  When life is just hard, it’s hard to feel angry about, especially with the housing stuff.  If they have issues with housing, they probably have issues with many other things and it’s really hard for them to find the energy to be thinking beyond day-to-day and want to organize.  But Dawn was struck by the injustice of it and even though it looked liked for months that the subsidy wouldn’t be available to her, in spite of the fact that she needed it and because she didn’t have an apartment.  [And in spite of the fact] that she had to look for an apartment that would take it, which meant selling two things to the landlord—herself and the LIHTF.  In spite of that, she made a commitment to work on the issue.

Again, Andrea Friedman recalls how people who came to LSNA to get help arranging for subsidies got involved in a larger way in the organization.

[With] a lot of intense work and talking to each person who wanted or said they wanted the help, whether they qualified [for a subsidy] or not, or were asking for themselves or for someone else, we were able to build a committee [for affordable housing].  It was people being sent to us through other leaders.  We did a lot of flyering and letting other people know.  So that’s how the “real” committee was born.  The people who were going to work on the issue and most of them are still working on the issue [one year later].  That’s when you start going into the phase of democratic participation, because it wasn’t LSNA and me telling people this is a problem and we need to do something about it.  Then it was them saying, “This is a problem and this is what we want to do about it.”  So that’s where it shifted. 

Leadership development can also be understood through stories about the ways individuals offer their time and their passions. It is apparent in leaders’ growing ability to help improve conditions in the neighborhood. 

A Case Study of Leadership Development:
Rose’s Story

Rose Becerra is one of many LSNA members who came into leadership positions via her involvement as a parent.  She began her association with LSNA as a parent mentor in her children’s school.  After that proved to be a good experience, she started receiving leadership training from LSNA staff who saw potential in her.  The next year she was hired by LSNA to coordinate the Parent Mentors program at Brentano School. 

In the summer of 2000, her responsibilities with the parent mentor program involved spending a lot less time in the school and she still wanted to be more involved with her community.  Nancy Aardema noticed this and suggested that Rose do some surveying in her neighborhood, talking with her neighbors to learn what concerned them. 

Because I had some experience working for the city and canvassing for [then Mayor] Jane Byrne, I thought, okay I can do this. …[But] I knew that I couldn’t go out there, just door-knocking, asking how they’re doing.  I had to have an issue.”

What she picked was housing, and what she discovered was that newer residents welcomed the influx of condos, believing that this would clean up the neighborhood and get rid of the “riff-raff,” while the older, longtime residents anticipated displacement, felt that their alderman didn’t care about them, and said that they were waiting until they could sell and relocate to Florida. 

A couple of times I had my daughters with me and a few of the older people told my daughters, “Don’t get too comfortable in this community because it might not be here in 5 years.”  And my daughters just looked at me and [I told them], “Don’t worry about it.  We’re going to stay.  We’ll find a way to stay.” …When the older residents told my kids that, it was so weird.  The way they were living was so different.  One was here for the investment; they’re leaving as soon as they can make their bucks.  The older residents were fed up.  They felt powerless.  They had worked on several issues where the alderman had supported development instead of the community.  So they felt, “This is it; we’re out of here.”

Throughout the year Rose continued to work on housing, serving on sub-committees, going door-to-door in her neighborhood, and helping out where she could, but she also admitted to us that she didn’t feel completely engaged.  Then something occurred that in retrospect struck her as a turning point.  She told us about a young woman who had come to LSNA to do a school project on gentrification; a photo essay along with a series of interviews.  Rose served as her guide, showing which houses had been turned into condos and which ones were slated to go.  She helped her identify ninety percent of the houses that the student eventually documented.  Rose recalls going to her home to help with the final selection of photos for the report. 

I was sitting there for an hour and I was exhausted to see the homes that had been torn down.  A single family home and then there’s this big unit.  [After] she had finished I asked her how she felt and I heard cracking in her voice.  She’s from Portland and she’s not even from here.

It was partially this experience that enabled Rose to take her commitment to housing organizing to a new level.  As Rose tells the story, she was subsequently deeply moved by the implications of a seemingly small and mundane detail.

The next morning as I’m walking to school, I’m actually walking the path of most of her pictures and I was right in front of one of these sites that is all brick.  And in the middle of an empty lot is a frying pan, and I think it was even dirty.  And [I realized] this was someone’s kitchen and now they’re gone.  Where are they?  And I almost started crying.  That’s when I told Nancy, I said, “I’ve been doing housing for a year and you had my head in it.  I knew I had to do it because it was my job but now you have my heart.  Now I can do it because I feel it.”  And it took something so, to me, so powerful to see those pictures and the stories she was telling.  And I just didn’t get it.  I didn’t get it until I saw it right there.  Like there’s a hole there.  That’s when I told Nancy, “Now you have me.  Now I’m pissed.  What do we do?”

Rose’s story is illustrative of the kinds of stories we heard from other LSNA members about becoming leaders and then organizers.  Like so many others, she bears a strong commitment to her community.  She moved to Logan Square from a nearby neighborhood and has lived there for eight years.  The rent is higher but her children were already attending the local school in the neighborhood.  She liked the fact that now she lives closer to the school and is in a diverse community that is more open and pedestrian-friendly than where she previously lived.  During those eight years she overcame a sense of depression, found regular meaningful work, organized at her children’s school to provide additional services for parents, as well as for the elementary school children.  As she got more deeply involved in organizing work around housing issues, she drew from all facets of her life

 experiences to relate to and help mentor and train others.  While now she is a full-time LSNA staff member, she still relates to what it means to be a community leader.  Her remarks about leadership (typical of findings from interviews with other leaders) are infused with awareness of the demands of her role–balancing her own issues and concerns with those of the organization.

It was a lot easier as a leader [than a staff member] because you were able to give out more.  …When I was a leader I could say things about our politicians that maybe an employee shouldn’t say.  I could go argue for or against issues that as a staff I can’t.  As an organizer, I have to find those people who have the potential to say what they feel and mentor them but also be careful not to relate my personal feelings and my personal issues because it’s not about Rose. It’s about what the community wants.  It’s about bringing leadership out of these people.  Maybe I can tell a few of my stories but I can’t tell them how I feel about the alderman or what I wish the alderman would do.  That’s something, as leaders, they will have to find out for themselves and then they have to make their own opinions.

Democratic Participation

Participation in broad democratic processes, whether oriented towards advocating for legislation or towards direct action, is key to LSNA's ability to support affordable housing within Logan Square.  In addition, internal democratic processes within the organization have been essential to bringing LSNA's diverse constituencies into a shared vision of the importance of affordable housing and balanced development within Logan Square. 

Democratic participation takes many forms.  One impressive example is hundreds of people turning out on a weeknight to show their support for the need for affordable housing.  Another is the time-consuming and frequently laborious work of subcommittees, where diverse groups of people come together to negotiate positions and struggle with how to include those who are most disadvantaged.  Democratic participation is also illustrated by those who show up to community meetings in support of building proposals by Bickerdike (a neighborhood community development corporation), lending LSNA’s name to Bickerdike’s plan to rehab and refurbish affordable units in Logan Square.  It is evident in the time individuals spend at block clubs, in trying to arrange meetings with developers, and writing letters to the alderman and the newspaper.  In short, in LSNA, democratic participation is represented by a diverse range of activities.  All of these take place without any guaranteed pay-off or sure victory.  In the following section, we discuss in some depth the evolution of one democratic process we were able to observe through several stages during the spring of 2001.

A Case Study of Democratic Participation:
The Housing Summit

In April of 2001, LSNA hosted a housing summit where issues of zoning, affordability, and displacement were discussed.  Organizing a housing summit was a new initiative for LSNA.  While issues of housing have been represented for many years in the Holistic Plan and at the annual Congresses, LSNA had never devoted time and resources to such a large public gathering around affordable housing. 

Activities Prior to the Housing Summit

Earlier in the year, LSNA, together with WestTown Leadership United and Bickerdike, had collected signatures in favor of a county ordinance to provide tax relief to longtime homeowners.  State Senator Miguel Del Valle drafted an early version of the plan.  His State district includes Logan Square, and Senator Del Valle is a longtime friend and ally of LSNA.  The spirit and language of this initial bill was picked up by County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado and introduced to the Cooke County Board of Commissioners as a proposed ordinance.

In March of 2001, Maldonado held a press conference at the home of Idida Perez, a former LSNA president and the current executive director for West Town Leadership United.  In front of local residents, television cameras and the print media, Maldonado made his announcement of the proposed ordinance, confident that he could obtain the necessary votes on the Country Board to pass it.  He also invited Idida and several other homeowners there to tell their stories of how their property tax dramatically increased in the wake of their neighborhood being discovered as a “hot” new location for homebuyers. 

The success associated with this victory (it ultimately passed the Board), kept tens of thousands of dollars from leaving the neighborhood, helped keep momentum for LSNA housing committees, and, at least in the Spanish language media, kept LSNA’s name linked with the fight for affordable housing.  The aim of the housing summit was to bring even more attention to the issue. 

The summit was planned by the LSNA housing subcommittees including: land-use and zoning, affordable rents, affordable homes and co-ops.  Each subcommittee went to work on specific tasks over a period of months.  The affordable rents subcommittee was deeply involved with the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund (LIHTF).  Their work included finding landlords willing to participate, and tenants who qualified and had registered with the city, and educating everyone about how the process worked.  Their work also included attempts (largely unsuccessful) to appeal to local aldermen for their support in keeping and expanding affordable rental options for residents.  The Reinvestment Coalition counseled people on mortgages and foreclosures.  The subcommittee on affordable homes and co-ops researched what it would take to enroll a group of families as partners in a co-op building and began the process of qualifying these individuals with banks for that purpose.  They also explored buildings as potential sites and submitted grant applications for additional support. 

During this time, the organizer at Lathrop (Lesszest) was meeting with residents to keep them informed about the Housing Authority’s plans for their building and to encourage them to be involved.

The Summit Planning Meeting

By the time the March 2001 planning meeting for the summit convened, the subcommittees had already done the bulk of the conceptual work.  They were ready to share the results of their research in workshops.  RFA researchers attended this planning meeting.  The representatives from the committees agreed that the purpose of the summit would be to educate community members and seek some confirmation from participants that they were concerned with these issues and felt that they were worth fighting for.  The first half of the summit would be devoted to various workshops run by members of the subcommittees.  The second half would convene all the attendees for a community speak-out.  There was some animated discussion over which politicians and public officials to invite and which ones would be invited to speak and on what topics.  In the end, none attended the summit.

The deliberations by the planning committee took on an interesting dimension when Nancy Aardema suggested that she wanted to “take one more stab at re-inviting Lathrop,” to include them in the summit and then to have a workshop on public housing.  None of the members of the public housing committee were in attendance that evening and their work had not been mentioned in the plans for the summit until this point. 

In the absence of Lathrop residents, Nancy and Liala Buekema were acting as Lathrop’s advocates.  According to RFA field notes, the energy in the room altered at this point and got quieter; people were not quite at ease or as animated as they had previously been.  Lathrop’s site, right along the Chicago river, could potentially become a very attractive property for developers.  Nancy and Liala talked about the threat of development to Lathrop and what it would mean to Logan Square if Lathrop were taken over by developers.  “If Lathrop is taken over by developers, it is only a matter of time until they come west [to Logan Square].”  Housing leader and member of the affordable rent subcommittee, Dawn Houston, wondered out loud, if that happened to Lathrop, would there be any diversity left. 

Some members raised questions about how engaged Lathrop people had been in the past with LSNA and its issues.  Some felt that the concerns of public housing residents were not a central priority for the work of LSNA.  Nancy reminded people that Lathrop helped lead the fight to get job training and jobs for fifty neighborhood residents at the Cosco store that was built close to Lathrop.  “It was hard work and they did that for Logan Square, not for just themselves,” Nancy offered.  Further, she argued, “Logan Square is their only hope, I really believe that.  Logan Square needs to know that Lathrop is a part of us.”

To the outside researchers, what was compelling about this particular moment was that it seemed to illustrate two important themes about how LSNA functions.  First, it showed the pivotal role that a good organizer can play in pushing a group to expand its thinking, and second, how, even in the midst of focused planning for an event, members took the time to reflect upon the fundamental issue of what it truly means to be an inclusive community and to look out for those not represented in the room. 

The Summit Itself

The housing summit was held on April 5th at Ames Middle School and was attended by over 350 residents, an impressive number to turn out on a weeknight.  Each subcommittee, including the public housing committee, facilitated workshops.  There was media coverage by Spanish language TV and newspapers, but not by the Anglo media.  Among those in attendance were a number of people from Lathrop as well as homeowners, renters and even a few landlords.  Missing seemed to be representatives from the more affluent sectors of Logan Square. 

Housing subcommittee members Fred Souchet,[15] Roxanne Tyler, and Marc Jaffe were among the handful of individuals who had been pre-selected to speak out on why they liked living in Logan Square.  All of the speakers’ statements included the idea that they valued diversity.  Father Mike roused the crowd with his speech on having to talk back to politicians and developers, on needing to become less timid and more active in a campaign to resist gentrification.  His speech was met with enthusiastic applause.  The event ended with a group of children parading into the room with art posters they had made while in childcare during the summit, which showed their feelings about housing.  They marched around the room accompanied by rhythmic clapping.  Despite the scripted dimension of the summit (a technique used in many public events among many community-based organizations), the theatrical aspects of sharing prepared statements kept the proceedings moving and added an air of drama to the public gathering.

LSNA looked upon the event as a success.  They saw success in the numbers of people who turned out for it and in the fact that local lenders who attended and had not been interested in funding co-op housing left talking about the idea of co-ops.  They saw success in people getting deeply engaged with the issues, and with each other, and with the organizing work that planted additional seeds of awareness and social action.

Building Power and Changing Policy

In this section, we trace several threads of organizing which we observed over the past three years (mobilizing around property taxes, around rental properties, around homeownership, and around zoning) in order to understand how they have been woven together into a coherent and sustained campaign for balanced development in Logan Square.  LSNA's power to impact affordable housing has been built in many different ways, including working closely with elected officials to craft legislation, partnering with banks and funding agencies on innovative homeownership programs, developing citywide policy coalitions, and engaging in public protest.

Providing community members with concrete services and resources, such as helping homeowners challenge assessments and apply for rental subsidies, helps to create credibility for LSNA and provides a base for organizing for policy changes in these arenas.  These programs and smaller "wins" help to give momentum to LSNA's larger campaign for affordable housing.

By the end of our three years of data collection, we have seen substantial change in LSNA’s approach to housing organizing, including its participation in a citywide Balanced Development Coalition and adoption of the balanced development platform.  We have also seen slowly growing acknowledgement by local politicians that affordable housing is a vital issue for Logan Square and the beginning of verbal commitments by local politicians to balanced development policies.

Building Power through the Zoning Committee

The issue of zoning, which is key to a campaign for balanced development and affordable housing, has been challenging for several reasons.  The committee itself struggled early on as individuals wrestled with competing and conflicting agendas.  Some members of the Zoning Committee who got involved because of their opposition to new development (due to concerns for maintaining architectural and historical integrity) dropped out when the committee moved towards supporting a policy of some form of balanced development in exchange for affordable housing.  Within LSNA, there are some middle-class homeowners who value living in an economically and culturally diverse neighborhood and accept the trade-offs associated with that.  Others worry that the value of housing will bottom out if Logan Square becomes a site for balanced development.  This is, in part, why LSNA is pushing for a citywide policy affecting all neighborhoods to create a level playing field. Changing zoning policy requires the strength to take on the existing political culture and power structure of Chicago.  Thus, LSNA has had to work to create organizational reasons and rationales for supporting or opposing different types of development and zoning.  At the same time, it has had to develop the strength and credibility to challenge the political structure within the neighborhood and the city as a whole. 

One example of a successful struggle to control development locally occurred around the Burger King’s attempt to locate in the neighborhood.  Fred Souchet, the chair of LSNA's Land Use and Zoning subcommittee recalls how he heard that one of the local landlords next to where he lived had struck a deal with Burger King.  Many neighbors thought that locating a fast food outlet in the neighborhood would bring problems, attract undesirable outsiders, and take revenue out of the neighborhood.  Fred Souchet recalled how a flyer was circulated by Alderman Colom inviting residents within a certain distance of the building to a meeting to hear about the proposed zoning change.  Fred and other leaders made four thousand copies of the flyer.  According to Fred, a tidal wave of community residents descended on the meeting. 

In the public hearing, Fred stood up and opposed the deal and others, in a voice vote, supported his objections. Alderman Colom, who had initially been in favor of the arrangement, found herself surrounded by so many of her constituents opposing the change that she reversed herself, sided with the residents, and denied the re-zoning.  A second successful campaign against a zoning change was led by Marc Jaffe, who organized opposition to a proposed zoning change on a property near his house from "R3" which allows only single family homes to "R5" which would allow about 20 units.

The response we heard from LSNA leaders over and over again was not that they opposed development of any kind but rather resented having the neighbor­hood’s needs ignored and being closed out of the decision-making process.  They felt that politicians and developers seemed intent on welcoming the new money associated with development and cared little, if at all, for preserving the quality of life of existing residents.  Father Mike captured these sentiments in remarks he made to residents who attended a workshop on affordable housing at the housing summit.

Because of the shortage of apartments, everyone is competing with each other for the same apartments.  Families are forced to move in together.  We have to do something. I don’t want this city to turn into a place only rich people can live in. If we don’t make it happen here, it’ll move across the city.  It’s already happened in Lincoln Park, in Lakeside, in Wicker Park, in Bucktown.  We’re next.  …Let’s have a change.  We’re not opposed to change, but it isn’t just run everyone out.  Let the politicians and developers and realtors know there is another opinion.  Those people [developers and realtors] don’t stay home.  They go to meetings.  They write letters.  They are well spoken.  They let people know what they want.  We have to speak so people can hear us!

Negotiating Tensions with Politicians and City Officials

In contrast to enjoying good relationships with local banks and other community organizations around the city, LSNA’s relationships with local politicians and developers have been more difficult.  LSNA has developed good relationships with public officials and administrators around its work with schools.  Relationships have also been good with Commis­sioner Maldonado, and certain state officials, but some of the relationships around housing issues particularly with local aldermen are more difficult. 

Part of the challenge is due to political boundaries, which during most of our research included three different wards, the 35th, 26th, and 31st; thus Logan Square is represented by 3 different aldermen.  It is also because, in Chicago, local aldermen are key figures in a political machine, that gives aldermen considerable local power.  Whatever happens in a ward happens with the alderman's consent.  Because the alderman is the conduit to city services  (e.g., zoning changes, street repairs and sanitation, building inspection, police), he or she can make life easier or harder for their constituents, and often ward politics operate on a quid pro quo basis.  While local alder­men were supportive of LSNA's work with schools, they were unresponsive at best, and hostile at worst, to much of LSNA's work on affordable housing, perceiving it as detrimental to their personal interests and the interests of the neighborhood.  Complicating matters is a long tradition in Chicago of local politicians receiving campaign contributions from developers.  By the end of our research, while more public dialogue was occurring between local public officials and LSNA about affordable housing, it remains unclear what the impact of that dialogue will be. 

Alderman Vilma Colom of the 35th ward was repeatedly cited in our interviews as a politician who is indifferent or even adversarial to the concerns of particular constituents, many of whom happen to be affiliated with LSNA.  She informed us that she was elected to bring business to her ward and that inviting development is one way to stimulate businesses.  While she respects LSNA for its work in schools, as she told us in an interview in the July 2001, she has a different opinion about LSNA's work on housing.  She seemed unaware of LSNA's history of work on homeownership and its current collaborative work with Bickerdike and Chicago Mutual Housing on developing coops. 

One day they’re good; one day they’re not. … LSNA is good at organizing. They’re good at education.  But they can’t be all things to all people.  They’re not so good at housing.  They should stick to their expertise, which is education.  They don’t understand housing.  Bickerdike does, Hispanic Housing does…  [LSNA] can’t be all things to all people.  It’s good to be an expert.  They should stay there.

Eleven Plus One

Eleven, Eleven, eleven plus one
Gathering in the Aldermans office.
Ward night, Ward night three! two! one!
Will her words and ours entice,
A relationship that will sustain?
Sustain a life that all can thrive,
We ask the questions, you make us dizzy.
As your mouth opens, the fog sets in.
We are also unable to breath freely,
You entertain our children with toxic tools.
We were fighting the urge to give in to the fog,
However it was difficult, due to the smog.
Which was created by words of hope,
Followed by the run-around blues.
Where do we go from here?
We ask the question again and again.
The answer’s the same, “We go in”

As a side note:
The Alderman has an office the size of a large closet and it is full to capacity with a desk and two chairs and another cabinet, I don’t know what else, but it is crowded.  This being said, when eleven people come to see you in an office so small, comfort is an issue to all.  We did ask if you would meet us in the waiting area, which was also not capable to handle the eleven of us, but it certainly was more so than the office.  Without a moment’s thought you quickly raised your hand and said in a voice of absolute decision “NO–in here.” Your concern was duly noted and the compassion obvious in all your doings and undoings, very clear.

Letitia Lehmann 12-6-01

In many cases aldermen were accused of deliberately attempting to thwart organizers’ and leaders’ efforts to slow development by keeping them mired in paperwork and red tape, withholding information or access to key meetings or information, or even making personal life difficult for active and visible leaders.  In the summer of 2001, Father Mike summed up his frustration with the lack of responsiveness of two local aldermen. 

Our experience has been, you have a good alderman and there’s some success.  In our case, you have a non-cooperative alderperson and you have zero success.  We’re pretty much batting zero in terms of affordable units and new developments.  Zero!  I mean that’s horrendous for the amount of work that we have put into this project, to have absolutely zero success, to the point where developers don’t even feel they have to come to anything that we have.  We have public meetings and they just send people outside to, you know, cause problems.  Oh, my god, it’s just a negative environment.  [26th ward Alderman] Billy Ocasio, who’s a little better than Vilma Colom, who has all these public meetings and then turns around and makes the decisions anyway.  At least he appears to be going along with it but for all intents and purposes his intent is to do the same, he’s just seeming more cooperative in the process.  In some sense it’s better because there’s an indication that he wants to look like he supports us, so you can play with that. 

We heard stories of various leaders’ experiences of harassment.  Shortly after certain public events where LSNA brought attention to the housing conditions in Logan Square, the windows of their homes were broken or trash was dumped in their yards and then building inspectors appeared suddenly looking for violations.  We heard variations of this story from several different sources.  We also heard stories of an occasion when community members turned out for a public hearing on developers' plans, Alderman Ocasio called for a community vote, and the plans for development were voted down.  Not liking this result, Ocasio held another meeting, this time outside his ward, got the votes he wanted at this meeting, and then declared his support to the developer. 

In addition to hearing about frustration with aldermen, we heard about experiences of disrespect for the community on the part of other city officials.  Even if the community is merely asking to be part of planning process, it is systematically excluded.  Roxanne Tyler sent the RFA research team copies of her expository writings from meetings and events she attended to provide data about events that RFA could not attend, but which LSNA thought were important.  In one of these “dispatches,” Roxanne recalls a rescheduled meeting with deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Housing.

O.K., I admit I wasn’t really optimistic about this meeting.  I honestly didn’t think this Monocchio person was going to show.  Can you blame me?  He showed up at the last meeting 70 minutes late, apologetic at first, “you know downtown traffic.” …This is not an uncommon scenario.

It almost seems that it makes no difference if the guest shows up or not, which has certainly been the case when it comes to the developers.  They have yet to reveal themselves to the committees that represent the community.  …Why is the Department of Housing using words like “partnership” with developers and not speaking in terms of partnership with the community?  Why is the Department of Housing speaking about tax breaks and incentives with developers and not speaking about these things with residents of the community who have worked hard and supported the community in almost warlike conditions? 

All we want is a plan and no one seems to be able to commit to a plan that will support both developer and community.  That, my friend, is where partnership needs to lie.  We can all be part of the building of community. 

Increasing Visibility through Public Action

Perhaps because of their experiences with their local officials and the seeming indifference shown by developers to meeting with neighborhood residents, LSNA has also exercised its power in non-formal channels to bring attention to the issue of affordable housing.  Beginning in the summer of 2001, LSNA has started to organize public “actions” designed to illustrate the circumstances people face today and educate the population through the use of street theater and public demonstration.  One of their early actions occurred during the Taste of Logan Square, a well-attended annual summer event sponsored by Alderman Colom in which local restaurateurs and other food vendors set up booths near the center circle of the neighborhood.  Members of LSNA staged a mock funeral procession for lost housing.  Several hundred marched along the sidewalk outside of the Taste’s boundaries, complete with theatrical coffins and signs of the properties lost to development.  As Father Mike recalled it, the event was a success in spite of the alderman's hostility to it.

The action here went pretty well; 300 people for the funeral procession.  There was a big flurry right before it happened in terms of people finding out.  I really insisted that we call the police.  Of course, as soon as the police were called, the alderman was notified.  As soon as the alderman found out, I’m sure she had a few choice words for the police and then they were told not to give us assistance.  Then there was the whole thing of “no, you can’t do the march.” I said, “well, we’re walking on public sidewalks. Yes we can.”  We didn’t back down.  We’re not really requiring a permit.  We’re not closing streets.  We’re just going to cross. We’re just asking for assistance to cross the street because we’re going to have a large number of people.  …Then we’re told we have to walk on a certain side of the street. 

Father Mike went on to describe how the impact of the Funeral Procession brought much needed energy to local leaders.

[It] was a good feel for the community. I think it was very beneficial especially for the people who have been on these committees and really fighting this and have been so frustrated.  Just the public nature of it, the number of people who turned out, the press, were all things very positive; especially for the community leaders who had been working on this.

LSNA has helped organize and facilitate other citywide public actions with representatives of the Balanced Development Coalition.  One was a theatrical play about displacement, high rents, and uncaring landlords that was performed in front of the Civic Center in downtown Chicago.  Another took place around the winter holidays; carolers had written Christmas carols to reflect the theme of affordable housing (e.g., “I’m dreaming of a home I can afford…”). 

At the time of this writing, the Coalition is working on strategies to gain regional attention and win a meeting with the mayor, where they plan to demand a citywide policy defining balanced development (i.e., 30 percent set-asides).

The Death of Housing for Working Families

On the 27th of July over 300 area residents joined together to protest the lack of housing for working families available in Logan Square.  Rather than a traditional street protest, a mock funeral procession was held to mourn “The Death of Affordable Housing.”  The following words were written by Letitia Lehmann, an LSNA leader who also wore black that evening.

July 27th
was a powerful statement
on many levels of consciousness.
We are united.
We are committed.
We understand the need to save
a place for all to live
in the community.

Thank you to the person who made the flyers,
made phone calls
knocked on doors
figured out their responsibility
to make sure that night was a success.

Letitia Lehmann


La muerte de viviendas para familias trabajadoras

El 27 de Julio más de 300 residentes del area se unieron para protestar la falta de viviendas para familias trabajadoras en Logan Square.  En vez de una protesta callejera tradicional, el simulacro de una procesión funeral se llevó a cabo para hacerle duelo a “la muerte de la vivienda módica.”  Las siguientes palabras fueron escritas por Letitia Lehmann, una líder de LSNA que también vistió de negro esa noche.

El 27 de Julio
fue una declaración poderosa
a muchos niveles de consciencia
Estamos unidos.
Estamos comprometidos.
Entendemos la necesidad de salvar
un lugar para vivir todos en comunidad.

Gracias a la persona que hizo el volante
la que tradujo
hizo llamadas
tocó puertes
entendió su responsabilidad
para asegurarse que esa noche fuera un éxito.

Letitia Lehmann

Directions for the Future

LSNA's 2002 Annual Congress, with over 1,000 people in attendance, had a clear and activist focus on the need for affordable housing.  LSNA's Teatro Libre (Free Theater) vividly enacted the various resolutions of LSNA's Holistic Plan and all that would be lost if current community members are forced to leave, LSNA's work on health care, youth involvement in the community, safety, and parent involvement in the schools.  Equally striking was the array of institutional and public support for affordable housing. 

LSNA's newest alderman (elected from the 1st ward in which parts of Logan Square were recently placed as a result of a new ward map), Jesse Granato, spoke on behalf of his fellow aldermen, promising to work closely with LSNA to ensure affordable housing in the neighborhood.  In contrast to many previous statements by local aldermen, Granato spoke about the issue of increasing taxes and rents as major problems for working people in Chicago.  Several Chicago Public School administrators spoke about the negative consequences of displacement for their schools, the stability of their student populations, and the maintenance of school/community relationships. 

State Representative William Delgado announced his support for LSNA's Balanced Development Platform, which calls for a city ordinance stating that "developers who are building new housing, doing substantial rehab or condominium conversions must set aside 30% of those units for affordable housing."  Many others, including Congressman Luis Gutierrez and representatives of other Chicago neighborhoods, congratulated LSNA or sent their support for LSNA's struggle for affordable housing.

The Balanced Development Coalition's campaign for 30% set-asides of affordable units is still in the early stages; a victory on this issue will not solve the housing problems for Chicago's low-income residents, especially the homeless or those who currently live in public housing.  Nevertheless, LSNA's 2002 Congress is evidence of a community's capacity to develop leadership, mobilize people around a shared problem, and develop a community agenda to set out on the policy table.  Three years earlier, when RFA began its research and LSNA's housing campaign was just beginning, such an event would have not been possible. 

As Roxanne told us,

It’s about the numbers, about the energy.  It’s about unity, about bringing people together.  It’s not about me trying to save my house.  It’s about people just being able to be and not [have to] defend themselves.

Summary of Chapter IV

In this chapter, we have examined how LSNA's relational approach to grassroots organizing plays out and builds community capacity in the organization's work with housing.  Beginning with the lens of relationship building, we demonstrated that LSNA organizers listen carefully and respectfully to community members in order to understand their concerns, commitments, and values related to personal goals and community issues.  For many people who eventually become leaders, the relationship with an organizer is a unique opportunity to probe and define who they are as individuals, as well as who they are as members of a community.  Often these relationships begin around LSNA's programs, such as the affordable homeownership program or assistance in gaining rental subsidies.  One-on-one relationships may not seem essential to LSNA's goal of maintaining neighborhood stability and diversity through affordable housing, but they are the basic building blocks of community capacity.  Relationship building between organizers and the mainly African American residents of Lathrop Homes, has been just as important as the relationship building that has taken place with leaders who live in the heart of Logan Square, and are mainly Latino or Anglo homeowners and renters.

Relationships of trust across racial and economic groups are hard to build, but are as important as relationships between individuals in realizing LSNA's vision of a diverse community.  In addition, LSNA's efforts to maintain affordable housing in Logan Square continue to gain both resources and legitimacy from long-term relationships with neighborhood banks, churches, and other agencies. 

Based on LSNA's ongoing success in building relationships, it has been able to nurture a strong, new generation of leaders for its housing subcommittees.  Using the lens of leadership development, during the course of our fieldwork we saw these new leaders become willing to take responsibility for acting on their beliefs and speaking out about the problems that gentrification is bringing to their community.  Looking at democratic participation, we saw that LSNA's Housing Summit brought about a public dialogue about the diverse housing needs of the Logan Square community, including the importance of supporting public housing residents whose homes were threatened. 

Having the time and space to develop an agenda for change is essential for organizational development and underlies LSNA's ability to support the com­munity.  From the perspective of building power and changing policy, LSNA has been able to draw on its efforts in relationships, leadership development, and democratic participation to develop and implement a campaign that has the potential to challenge current policies that are disrupting the existing community. 

We saw the balanced development campaign grow out of LSNA’s experiences with zoning changes and redevelopment that accelerated displacement.  As realists, LSNA recognized that development was not going away but winning some affordable housing in exchange seemed possible.  In addition, LSNA’s success in negotiating issues and identity among a citywide coalition speaks both to its skills in relationship building and its innovative use of those skills to build power toward effecting policy changes.

LSNA's success in developing school/community partnerships has also been important in building the community's capacity to mount a campaign for balanced development.  LSNA has developed credibility and visibility within the neighborhood and the city because of its school-based programs and has developed strong, community-based leadership through these same programs.

LSNA’s work in building relationships and developing leaders has been so effective and fundamental to their community organizing strategy because through these means LSNA is truly building a community, not just of housing, schools and businesses, but of people who care for and feel responsible for each other.  As we heard time and again in interviews, people felt that through becoming involved with LSNA and its programs, their lives gained new purpose and value; they were no longer isolated, but were instead part of a community with a shared sense of moral, social, and often religious purpose.  The fact that LSNA offers Logan Square residents the opportunity to participate in this kind of community is one of the organization’s greatest strengths, and helps to sustain its work in the face of the massive power differentials it confronts on so many issues.  As LSNA’s executive director, Nancy Aardema put it,

It [the work] has to be worthy of our time, both in terms of victory and building relationships.  So part of our organizing is always relationship building and making it worth staying in the community, because it’s deeper than a house.


I am a Logan square resident!
I am a Logan square resident!
A Logan square resident am I!
Do you like arroz con gandules?
Do you like arroz con gandules?
Yes, we like arroz con gandules,
Y Lechon y pan.
Why the celebration? Whey the celebration?
for unto us a family was bestowed.
A family with room to spare and people who care.
A family where we look in the eyes of each other,
and know from where we have come.
We also know who will stand with us when we reach our
This is why we celebrate! We celebrate with pride.
We made it through another year! the promise of the future
is clear.
We were one.  We are one.  We will be one.
The music rings loud, the crowd is full of goodies.
Santa appears his lap is clear, from his busy job he yells
“hi” through the crowd.
He knows my name and my face and by his gesture of acknowledgement, I feel real in that moment.
Logan Square Neighborhood Association.
Thanks for the opportunity to celebrate the true gift of who we are to each other.

Letitia Lehmann 12/06/01