Crain’s Chicago Business: Prosperity in Chicago’s Loop must trickle to neighborhoods

By Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is one of 11 membership-based organizations in the Grassroots Collaborative.

Greg Hinz’s cover story lifted up many important points about the growth of Chicago’s city center (“Trending,” Crain’s, March 4). The article told an impressive story of the growth, vibrancy and influence of downtown Chicago. Upon closer reading, it also revealed important cracks in the pavement that are swallowing many Chicagoans whole.

Chicago’s near-singular focus on downtown development has failed to trickle outward to the city’s neighborhoods. Jobs may have increased downtown, but they largely aren’t being filled by black and Latino workers. In fact, the gap between wealthy Chicago and working families has widened drastically over the last few decades. A recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank, shows that Illinois ranks third in the nation when it comes to the widening disparity between the top 5 percent of households and the bottom 20 percent.

This consolidation of wealth clearly can be seen playing out on geographic lines in the city. It is appalling that Bill Testa, vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, believes that the loss of 200,000 African-Americans from 2000 to 2010 is a good thing, according to Mr. Hinz’s story.

The exodus of black families from Chicago is not just the story of the sliver of black middle-class families integrating the suburbs. It is tens of thousands of black families moving to Matteson, Lansing, Calumet City, Park Forest and Richton Park — black suburbs that have drastically fewer resources than wealthier Chicago. It is the destruction of public housing and the city’s failure to provide new housing options for families in poverty. It is the exclusion of the black families who have lived and worked in this city for generations from any say in its economic or political future. It is the failure to create good jobs for black workers in the city and the steady erosion of the greatest source of good jobs for black workers — the public sector.

This moment requires us to all think fresh about the economic strategies we employ as a city. We absolutely must challenge, for example, the gifting of $29.5 million tax-increment financing dollars to wealthy developers to create a corporate riverfront plaza downtown, while communities on the South and West sides are being ravaged by violence due to school closings, mental-health clinic shutdowns and few safe neighborhood spaces. Chicago’s TIF policies shift limited resources from the poor to the wealthy, a redistribution of money from the bottom to the top. The city’s working families cannot afford to maintain this status quo.

We have the opportunity to create a new Chicago, and we must — one that supports all of Chicago. A global city takes care of its neighborhoods, not just downtown.