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As Pilsen Gentrifies, Latino Residents Are Leaving By The Thousands

By Sophie Lucido Johnson in News on Apr 14, 2016 7:13PM

Long a subject of controversy and debate, the cost of living in Pilsen is definitely on the rise, and with it comes a change in demographics. A new study by University of Illinois at Chicago professor John Betancur and Youngjun Kim, a graduate student, found that white residents in the neighborhood grew by 22 percent between 2000 and 2013, and that Hispanic residents have been leaving by the thousands.

Betancur wanted to update a similar report he did in 2005 that found that at that time, gentrification in Pilsen was largely contained in the east of the community, but that the community had a reputation for being more gentrified than it actually was. Betancur said that the implication that the neighborhood had already been gentrified raised the property value significantly, accelerating gentrification. In this new study, Betancur hoped to update his statistics, but also to understand the deeper and more complex ways the neighborhood was changing.

"Pilsen is a neighborhood in which Latinos were able to build, when they were being displaced from everywhere in the city; it was a neighborhood where people were able to organize as a community and they used to stage their fights," Betancur told Chicagoist. "Pilsen was pretty much the political base of the Mexican community." Now that the neighborhood is seeing such an influx of white people moving in, that community is at risk of being fractured.

Betancur said that until the 1990s, Pilsen was one of the neighborhoods in Chicago that was most successful at keeping gentrification at bay. In the '90s, though, the political leadership of Pilsen became a part of city hall, and that was when many of the organization in the neighborhood "pretty much gave up the fight to combat gentrification."

The question now is how much of the Latino community-driven aspects of neighborhood can be saved. In this new study, Betancur found that many of Pilsen's first generation Latinos were no longer living in the area, leaving a community that is made up more of second generation citizens. Even though gentrification in Pilsen is inevitable at this point, "that doesn't mean the community is not fighting to survive," Betancur said.

He added, "This is not a conversation about trying to avoid change. This is a conversation about neighborhoods that are very important to their residents because they provide critical forms of survival in the form of networks, neighbors helping neighbors, and people speaking the same language and being of the same culture."

This recent study relied partially on data from U.S. Census reports and the IHS Housing Market Indicators Data Portal, but also from conversations, media, institutional representatives news and Betancur's own continuing projects in the community.