Top 10 Events of 2016

By: Suzanne Hanney January 6, 2017


The Make Room campaign is putting a face on the 19 million low-income families in the U.S. who spend more than half their income on rent or mortgages.

“There are seniors living on fixed income who suffer in silence, families who work two and three jobs to make ends meet. Housing has not been on the agenda the way we feel it needs to be,” Make Room Managing Director Angela Boyd told StreetWise.

Sponsored by Enterprise Community Partners with support from the MacArthur and Ford Foundations, the campaign has enlisted celebrity musicians like singer Carly Rae Jepsen (“Call Me Maybe”) and Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind. They performed at benefit parties for families around the U.S., whose stories are showcased at

The Make Room campaign favors minimum wages that reflect the true cost of living and public investment that incentivizes affordable construction. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), for example, has helped finance more than 2.4 million affordable rental units since 1986. But in 2013, developers requested three times the number available, which meant that many were turned away, according to National Council of State Housing Agencies.

“It is arguably one of the most sought-after funding sources for affordable housing development,” said Man Yee Lee, Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) assistant director of marketing and communications.



On Aug. 5, 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prayed in front of a real estate firm at 63rd and Kedzie that refused to rent to blacks, then led an open housing march down Kedzie to 67th Street and Marquette Park.

Fifty years later, an historic installation by Jon Pitman Weber and Sonja Henderson of Chicago Public Art Group was unveiled in Marquette Park. The next day, 1400 people – civic and business leaders, high school students, community organizers, religious leaders, philanthropists -- re-created the half-mile march.

“What Dr. King experienced that day in Marquette Park represented the types of challenges the Civil Rights Movement was trying to highlight in the North at that time including residential segregation, bigotry, profound levels of socioeconomic disparities and police accountability,” said Rami Nashashabi, executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), who first envisioned the historic installation a decade ago.

Jane Ramsey, former executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, said Dr. King’s movement united people across race, class and faith. She pointed to historian Timuel Black, to the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the late Rev. Willie Barrow, co-founders of Operation PUSH; to American Muslim leader Imam W. D. Mohammed, the Rev. Calvin Morris, former executive director of the Community Renewal Society, and JCUA founder Rabbi Robert Marx.



Whole Foods’ opening at 63rd and Halsted in Englewood in September continued the community’s efforts to move from “food desert” to “food destination” at a major southwest side intersection.

“That corner is kind of the epicenter of Englewood, so it’s great to see retail returning, jobs created,” CNI President David Doig told the Chicago Sun-Times. CNI did the site preparation for Englewood Square, which includes Whole Foods, Starbucks, Chipotle and 10 other stores. “Our hope is this will seed other development at that corner, then radiate west on 63rd, north on Halsted.”

Whole Foods has roughly 100 employees, about 75 percent from the neighborhood. It is also stocking products made by local chefs and providing $40,000 in seed money for an entrepreneurial competition.

Healthy food was a theme in an Englewood Quality of Life Plan after the community showed rates of obesity, cancer and heart disease above the city’s average. One task force member was Growing Home, (GH), Chicago’s first and only USDA-certified high-production farm, which provides paid job training to people who have been incarcerated, addicted or homeless. GH and the Chicago Community Trust had earlier founded the Greater Englewood Urban Agriculture (GEUA) task force, whose focus is to use urban farming and related food businesses to stimulate Englewood’s economy.



In August Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a law to give a comprehensive Bill of Rights to the state’s 35,000 domestic workers: nannies, housecleaners, homecare workers, cooks, chauffeurs.

The new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2017, gives domestic workers the state minimum wage, protection from sexual harassment and one day of rest a week for those who work for one employer at least 20 hours a week. Domestic workers had been excluded from these protections in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Grace Padao worked as a live-in caregiver for $80 a day, seven days a week in 2002. Padao told Progress Illinois she never had a day off, but worked all day every day “because I am on call anytime, even when I am sleeping at night.”

The legislation was co-sponsored by Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) and Rep. Lisa Hernandez (D-Cicero).

Since 2011, it had been a goal of the Latino Union, Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE), and Arise Chicago; allies included the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Heartland Alliance, Women Employed, SEIU/HCII, the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA).



The Chicago City Council passed an ordinance June 22 to grant workers up to five days annual sick time after six months on the job.

The ordinance, which takes effect in July 2017, covers 460,000 Chicago workers: 42 percent of the private sector and nearly 80 percent of low-income workers, in companies large and small. Beneficiaries are the bartender who worked while running a fever, the mom who was fired because she had to stay home with her child when schools were closed, the domestic violence victim who needs to access legal/judicial proceedings.

Employees will earn one hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked and be able to roll over 2.5 unused sick days to the next year.

Mayor Emanuel credited his appointed Working Families Task Force, which included aldermen, state legislators, small business owners, labor and chamber of commerce officials. Co-chairs were Ald. Ameya Pawar, (47th ward) and Anne Ladky, executive director of Women Employed, which had long championed the idea.

In October, Cook County passed a similar ordinance so that suburban workers could also earn one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked, to a maximum of 40 hours paid sick leave per year. Cook County Board members Bridget Gainer and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia were co-sponsors.



Up to 2,400 unaccompanied youth age 18 to 24 are homeless every night in Chicago. There are fewer than 300 shelter beds for them, or enough programs to help them advance their lives.

But Chicago does have a coordinated policy and it delivers services tailored to needs across the city: outreach, drop-in centers, overnight shelters, interim and permanent housing, services for LGBTQ youth and those who had been trafficked, said Jeri Linas, co-chair of Chicago’s Homeless Youth Task Force. Linas spoke after an October 25 meeting of prospective working group members and private sector funders who are seeking a federal pilot grant next year. Gaps they would seek to fill would be homelessness prevention, family reunification, transitions from foster care and engagement with the juvenile system.

Meanwhile, the new Chicago Youth Storage Initiative announced in May that it would install 250 super-size lockers by the end of 2017 around the city so that youth would have a safe place to keep important possessions. And the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless in November introduced “StreetLight Chicago,” a mobile phone app to help youth access health care services, overnight shelters, drop-in centers, legal aid, weather alerts.



A $125 million luxury rental building at Montrose and Clarendon received $15.88 million in tax increment financing (TIF) early in the year. The building will have 381 units, with 78 affordable, as required for developers who receive City money. However, only 20 of these units will be built on-site.

Advocates said that rents would range from $1688 for a one-bedroom to $2,637 for two bedrooms. “We are deeply disappointed and angry that our elected officials would…use public money to subsidize luxury housing, a move that will further segregate our community, which has for decades demonstrated that success lies in diversity,” noted members of ONE Northside, Northside Action for Justice, Friends of Cuneo, Uptown People’s Law Center and Coalition 4 Uptown in a StreetWise op ed.

In September, the Autonomous Tenants Union, Somos Logan Square and Grassroots Illinois Action protested evictions at 2342-44 N. Milwaukee Ave., where six tenants paid $500 to $600 a month rent. But landlord Francisco Macias said his taxes on the two properties and a neighboring vacant lot are $24,000 a year, which are “just barely” covered by rents. He said he might sell the properties to Savoy Development, which planned a 138-unit luxury rental building there.



The Chronic Homeless Pilot Project was City officials’ response to residents of tents under the Lake Shore Drive overpasses at Irving Park Road, Wilson, Lawrence and Foster. In April, they registered the 75 people under the viaducts, to find them “bridge” units and then permanent supportive housing.

One problem the pilot project has encountered is that most Tent City residents want to stay close to Uptown, which is familiar and the place where they may receive supportive services. However, there is little affordable housing on the North Side, but on the South and West Sides instead. Another concern is that many Tent City residents are couples but the affordable options offered to them have been single room occupancy units.

Late in the summer, residents were threatened with the loss of their tents, which they argued were necessary for the upcoming cold weather. The tents remain. Members of the public have been donating new tents, food and even propane fuel. 

In September, the City resumed weekly street cleaning. Residents called the move harassment but a City official said they were cut back during the signup period to build trust and reinstated because of increased garbage and human waste.



The Illinois state budget crisis has a pervasive impact on providers of human services: senior home care, after-school programs, homelessness prevention and more. More than 800 organizations are contracted with the state to provide services but last April, StreetWise told how they hadn’t been paid since the previous July for lack of a state budget. They were basically “floating” the state for their services.

At the beginning of the year, United Way of Illinois, the state’s largest non-governmental funder of health human services, had surveyed its members and found that 85% had been forced to cut the number of clients they serve.

In June, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless urged Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign a bill for $700 emergency funding for the human service providers, who hadn’t been paid in 11 months. Mid-afternoon on June 30, the last day of the state’s fiscal year, the General Assembly passed a six-month stopgap budget to fund state government. That budget expires December 31.



As Blue as Chicago may be, Donald Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton is the top story for 2016 because the presidency prevails over national and international policy – from health care to foreign affairs.

A Trump rally at the University of Illinois/Chicago Pavilion on March 11 was shut down. StreetWise Intern James Barnett, a graduate student there, wrote that 180 faculty signed a letter saying that Trump’s values did not agree with UIC’s mission and its diverse student body.

Speakers at the Young Chicago Feminist conference hosted by Off the Sides Chicago on August 15 supported Hillary Clinton as a woman candidate for president and also discussed endangered abortion rights, without specifically targeting Trump’s stance. After the last presidential debate October 19, advocates rallied at Wacker and Wabash. “Americans do not want candidates who will further divide us or strip away the rights of half our population,” said Donna Miller, board chair of Planned Parenthood Illinois Action.