Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer Responds to New York Times Article on Chatham
I am aware that the recent article by the New York Times about our neighborhood of Chatham has rekindled discussions about the situation and the direction of the neighborhood. Recent stories of violent crimes have added to the concern that many neighbors feel and that I have been working to address since you have given me the honor to serve as Alderman. If we are really going to address the issues that affect Chatham and the concept of stable black middle class neighborhoods throughout the city we must take a clear account of the issue.
First I want to be clear that Chatham is still a wonderful community. We have beautiful homes and wonderful strong families with roots in the neighborhood that go back generations. However, the economic downturn has given Chatham something that it has rarely seen in the form of vacancies and foreclosures that have allowed a large number of new residents in the area. Some of our issues can be connected to the transient nature of some of the new tenants; if we are able to stabilize our housing to remove vacancies we will greatly reduce transient elements in the community. But if we are honest we must admit that some of the problems are coming from the children and grandchildren of longtime Chatham families.
In short, there is no magic solution. You cannot remove one bad business or one bad neighbor to return Chatham to what it was. Further, we must not blame our new neighbors for not being from Chatham because there was a time when all of us were not from Chatham. We moved here from other neighborhoods when we got our first good job or were given opportunity, and through neighbors and friends we became part of the foundation of the neighborhood. We need outreach to our new residents to help them take ownership of more than a house, but of being part of a community and that can only be done with the help of our block clubs, community organizations and churches.
As we look forward we must remember that while Chatham may not look exactly like the neighborhood we knew, we can stabilize it by re-enforcing the values of the neighborhood through our priorities. More than just nice homes, Chatham’s business strips were populated with strong black businesses that were a part of the community and provided services for the residents in walking distance. Chatham was also home to lawyers, doctors and city workers of all types. Attracting these new families will take work, which is why I am focused on modernizing out transit centers because a person that works downtown would like to avoid $4 gas and $30 plus parking as a price for living in a particular neighborhood. This is why I introduced the Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance, to see the real effect of privatizing city services which has had a disproportionate effect on our neighborhood. It is also why I stand with the Chicago Teachers Union where employment of African American teachers has fallen below twenty percent. By taking these steps, along with appropriately implementing Cook County Board President’s proposed ordinance to establish a land bank to return vacant homes to private ownership, we can increase the numbers of African American workers and homeowners and maintain a stable community.
Chatham is not gone, not by a long shot, and together we can bring the neighborhood back to what it was. I have a plan to get it done, but I will need your help.