Linda Jennings, 73, gets phone calls almost daily from people around the country trying to buy her South Shore, Chicago, condo. She tells them “No thanks” every time.
Corporate investors are buying up homes around the site of the Obama Presidential Center, which will include a library in the historic South Side Chicago neighborhood of Jackson Park. Residents In Jackson Park are more than 90 percent Black, compounding fears of gentrification.
It’s not just Chicago. Across the country, corporate investors are buying larger market shares of homes. The trend has grown during the global pandemic and is more pronounced in low-income and predominantly Black neighborhoods, according to the nonprofit journalism watchdog the Illinois Answers Project.
Jennings and her family moved to the South Shore neighborhood in 1958, one of the first Black families to integrate north of 78th Street. She said she went to high school in another neighborhood because South Shore High School wasn’t allowing Black students at the time.
Most of the homeowners she knows are on fixed incomes, Jennings said in an interview with Illinois Answers. With rising property taxes and repairs needed for some of the homes, she said she isn’t sure enough is being done to protect them.
Developers broke ground on the Obama center in September 2021, and housing advocates have been warning of gentrification in South Side neighborhoods.
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Recent data shows investors bought 32 percent of the homes for sale in the zip codes around the Obama Center in the third quarter of 2022 — the most in the city — according to data provided by Redfin. Other Chicago areas saw a more modest percentage of homes bought by investors.
By comparison, investors bought 17 percent of homes in 2015 before Jackson Park was announced as the home of the Obama Center and 14 percent in 2005 during the housing bubble, according to the nonprofit journalism watchdog the Illinois Answers Project.
“Gentrification has happened around the library because of higher property values,” said Armstead Jones, a strategic real estate advisor at Baltimore-based Real Estate Bees, in an email to The Moguldom Nation. Real Estate Bees specializes in technology and web marketing for real estate.
Redfin categorizes an investor buyer if the name includes an LLC, Inc. or Trust Corp. and whose ownership code on the purchasing deed includes an association, corporate trustee, company, joint venture or corporate trust. A home is defined as any single-family, townhome, condo or residential building with up to four units.
“People should be afraid, they should be concerned about firms that don’t live in this community buying up homes,” said Dixon Romeo, a South Shore organizer fighting for better housing and sustainability. “It’s very simple, the goal of every firm is to make profit, right? In terms of housing that means raising the rent, imposing unnecessary fees and effectively displacing people.”
Activists say they aren’t protesting the center itself, but are working to stop development from displacing longtime residents.
“We’re not against the center,” said Romeo, who works with the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, in an Insider interview.
The coalition recently issued new demands to the city of Chicago to combat gentrification, including developing affordable housing from city-owned vacant lots in a neighborhood whose residents are predominantly low-income and Black, allocating money to the Chicago Low-Income Trust Fund for subsidized units in the area, and expanding tenant protections, including establishing a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase program, and greater Fair Notice protections.
“Investors see market data that makes them invest but higher prices make it hard for legacy residents to stand in the neighborhood,” Jones told The Moguldom Nation. “Development without displacement is increasingly harder to achieve.”