By now, the secret has long been out that New York-based Property Market Groups is moving forward with a 500 unit apartment complex in Pilsen along 18th street and just west of Halsted. It’s also no secret that, for better or worse, Pilsen is a neighborhood on the rise. Located just 10 minutes by train from downtown, the former Czech and Polish borough turned working class Latino neighborhood has seen a huge influx in capital thanks to its flourishing art district, affordable rent, and insanely good food. With many in the neighborhood already worried that gentrification is moving too fast, though, will the massive new settlement only make things worse?
What The Residents Say
Local opposition has found its public voice largely with the help of the Pilsen Alliance, a social justice organizations that has notoriously taken a hard stance on keeping the neighborhood open and accessible to the working class immigrant communities.
The Alliance argues that the apartment deal will bad for longtime neighborhood residents already confronted with financial struggle to stay in the area as the neighborhood’s popularity rises. Alderman Danny Solis (25th) has promised to seek the input of the community before deciding whether or not to endorse the project, but residents fear that the promise is more talk than action, despite the Alderman’s call for 21 percent of the units to be affordable housing.
This isn’t the first time Pilsen residents have seen this happen. Real estate group Podmajersky has long been buying up Pilsen realty, now owning over a hundred properties in the area, and quietly renovating them into live/work art lofts and high end apartments.
It was the development of the Arts District that is often cited as the catalyst for the first major wave of gentrification in Pilsen, and residents informed with those memories fear that the luxury apartment development will cause the same thing to happen much faster and with much greater financial and social consequences.
What Would A New Pilsen Look Like?
While there’s demand for affordable housing and green space to be integrated into the new development, there are larger questions about what new foot traffic, residents, and jobs would do for the area, and what other real estate would become if the complex goes up.
A large part of the problem, as cited by residents, is that there isn’t a clear picture of what the project or the neighborhood will look like. The plans have been largely closed-door up to this point, and residents have expressed strong concern knowing that there are projections and predictions that have not been shared with the people who would be most impacted.
The fear is that the neighborhood will go the way of Wicker Park and more recently Logan Square, forcing residents to pick up and start over, building a community elsewhere. That’s a challenge unto itself, but Pilsen’s roots mean that it’s always been a working class neighborhood with these systems in place. If it goes, there aren’t many other places in Chicago that could provide the same systems and public amenities for the residents that depend on them.