To the editor,
Ms. Lydersen's article "Living Room or Work Space" [November 20] about community controversy surrounding the development of the Wilson Yard site is inaccurate in many respects. The Organization of the NorthEast (ONE) has not taken a position for affordable housing on the site nor have we taken a position against the site being used to train or employ area residents. The ONE position is that whatever development goes on this site must support our mission of sustaining a multiethnic, mixed economic community in Uptown and Edgewater. This would perhaps incline ONE to support a small business incubator, a multicultural community center, affordable rental or home-ownership development, an ethnic market, and a myriad of other options. Our organization would be disinclined to support "big box" development or a chain-operated business because such operations displace the locally owned small businesses that create jobs and community in Uptown. But since the site has yet to be surveyed for environmental contamination and it is not yet clear how much of the land the CTA will make available for development, nor how much Truman College needs for parking, it is too soon to say exactly what is appropriate for the site.
ONE's 63 member organizations include area churches, banks, hospitals, educational institutions, and ethnic associations as well as social-service agencies and local residents. To say that we represent only social-service agencies and affordable-housing advocates is to grossly misunderstand the nature of our organization. ONE just spent nine months negotiating with the State of Illinois Department of Human Services to obtain funding for Project Jobs, a holistic, community-controlled employment training and placement collaborative. Clearly, ONE is committed to helping everyone in the community who needs work find work as well as the training they may need to secure a job.
We are disturbed by the quote in the article from the Department of Planning and Development about the nature of our community. Uptown already has several successful commercial districts. Most residents of our community are proud to have such a diverse array of social-service organizations serving the neighborhood. And with regard to the "visible homeless population," we encourage city officials to fund more effective interventions (such as the proposed warming center at Ebenezer Lutheran Church) rather than pretending such services are not needed. In actual fact, Uptown's crime rate is among the lowest in the city; the number of TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] recipients is at an all-time low, with less than 1,200 cases being managed out of the Uptown office. The housing profile of Uptown has changed dramatically in recent years. Indeed, there are more new units of condominium conversion units in the community today than there are scattered-site CHA units.
We appreciate the openness Alderman Shiller has insisted upon bringing to the Wilson Yard process. We hope that all members of the community continue to participate in the process and that the city agencies involved respect the wishes of the community. Redevelopment of the largest piece of publicly owned land in Uptown is critical to the future of the city's most successful mixed-income, multiethnic community. Whatever goes into this site must help maintain the diversity that we all value. ONE thanks the Reader and Ms. Lydersen for continuing to report on important neighborhood issues such as this one.
Sarah Jane Knoy
Kari Lydersen replies:
Sarah Jane Knoy did tell me that ONE is firmly on the side of developing affordable housing in the Wilson Yard site, provided the area isn't contaminated from its previous use. But implications that ONE is promoting the use of Wilson Yard solely for low-income housing at the exclusion of any business development are inaccurate. I apologize for any confusion.