[Adapted from a speech by Brian Bennett on August 24, 2020. Featured photo by Deana Rutherford.]
For years, I have been fighting for basic, popular housing reforms with grassroots organizations from all over Chicago. I am proud to stand with 48th Ward Neighbors for Justice with a bold vision for housing justice, relieving the burden on working families, and letting us control the land we live on instead of developers. Every single time I have turned to Alderman Osterman for help, as the powerful Chair of our city’s Housing Committee, he has given me empty words, unanswered emails, and a total lack of progress for progressive housing policy.
I met with the Alderman to ask for his support lifting the Koch Brothers-backed ban on rent control. Rent control has overwhelming support in Chicago in every referendum held. He never got back to me again. Here we are, over a year later.
At a town hall, I asked the Alderman to move the Community Benefits Agreement for the Obama Presidential library along. I gave him a letter signed by a group of faith leaders in Edgewater and housing advocates. Here we are, over a year later, and it’s been passed by South Side activists despite his abandonment of their community-saving ordinance.
I eagerly attended his community Housing Committee along with 80 other residents. We asked him for action, not words. He never convened that community housing committee again. Here we are, over a year later.
Then I looked into his donors — dozens and dozens of landlords, developers and banks in the last year, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars from the real estate lobby. Now I understand where his priorities lie. He’s a yes-man to developers, but he’s a no-man to his constituents.
He always says he wants to work with the mayor, work with developers, work within the failing system that already exists. Well, it’s about time he starts thinking about who he works FOR. That is the good people of the 48th Ward. We don’t have lobbyists and we don’t have the cash to send him $1000 checks like the real estate lobby does. What we have are solutions that need a fierce advocate in City Hall for, all of which would actually save the city money if they were enacted:
We need to own the city that we live in, which is owned by white male millionaires and billionaires.
We need to get the tax burden off of working families and put it onto corporate developers.
We need to put a stop to the looting of Black and brown neighborhoods by the TIF (tax-increment financing) system, and all other robberies like the $1 a year Navy Pier lease.
We need steep consequences for banks that refuse to lend to Black Chicagoans, which is almost all of them.
We need land trusts for families to buy their own home.
We need a public bank to finance public development.
We need a vacancy tax for speculators that sit on empty lots and empty units.
We need rent control to regulate rent like we regulate every other commodity.
We need to let communities control zoning.
We need to stop using jail as housing policy.
What we don’t need is an Alderman who tells us to lower our horizons, accept the failing system, and quiet down so those in power can keep transferring wealth from our pockets to banks and corporations.