One Year After Chicago EJ Civil Rights Complaint

This month marks one year after Chicago Southeast Siders filed a civil rights complaint with HUD against General Iron. Here’s where we are now.

General Iron Protest

Oscar Sanchez

It’s been one year since Southeast Siders came together to file a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that has led to a serious investigation from the Department of Justice and a hunger strike to stop a notorious polluter from coming to the vulnerable Southeast Side from Lincoln Park.

The complaint was triggered by the proposed move of General Iron’s massive metal shredding operation to my neighborhood after the Lincoln Park community voiced environmental complaints about the facility, but that’s just one instance among many throughout the decades that have deepened segregation and created “sacrifice zones” that are under-resourced and dumped with the most dangerous polluters.

On the anniversary of the complaint, progress has certainly been made. The US EPA stepped in and asked city officials to perform an environmental justice analysis that takes into account the accumulation of polluters in communities of color as part of the permitting process. This was a huge victory won in part because of the courageous hunger strikers.

The mayor also committed to introducing an ordinance that addresses the cumulative impacts of pollution in the city. Many neighborhoods of color are fighting pollution in the air, soil and water all in the backdrop of the climate crisis.

My community remains on the front lines of the environmental justice fight but this is a battle we continue to fight today.

As a recipient of HUD funding, Chicago must adhere to the Fair Housing Act which aims to prevent segregation and props up integrated housing.

The city should consider what moving General Iron to the Southeast Side would mean for our neighborhood that’s already dominated by industry, air pollution from diesel trucks, petcoke and manganese and lead contamination.

General Iron Protest

Oscar Sanchez

We filed this complaint because this move is only one example among decades of unfair zoning and land-use practices that discriminate against Black and Latino residents while benefiting white neighborhoods that have seen their home values soar.

General Iron’s presence won’t only add to the toxic air we breathe; it will also worsen the segregation that already exists in Chicago. In our complaint we charged the city for engaging in housing discrimination when they entered into an agreement on September 10, 2019 facilitating the relocation of General Iron’s industrial facility.

“The September 2019 agreement to relocate the business and operations of General Iron is just one discrete instance of the City of Chicago’s longstanding and ongoing practice of facilitating the relocation of industrial entities from White, affluent neighborhoods, to Black and Latinx neighborhoods. Given the City’s recently published 2020 Air Quality and Health Report, the City is entirely aware that the communities it is relocating industrial actors to already experience significant, adverse, and disproportionate environmental burdens,” the complaint reads.

America’s history, and present state, is rife with instances of housing discrimination that have led to segregation and made it difficult for people of color to build generational wealth through homeownership.

Our current conditions exist directly because of legal federal and local policies like redlining which discouraged non-white individuals from owning property in certain areas. These policies continue to deepen segregation and make it harder for people in my neighborhood to move and find housing.

It’s no coincidence that white families have significantly more wealth than non-white families in America and are more likely to be homeowners or that Black and Latino neighborhoods across the country, including in Chicago, have experienced much more disinvestment. 2018 U.S. Census data shows that of housing units in Chicago occupied by an owner, 47.7 percent are White, 22 percent are Black and 22.3 percent are Hispanic. And General Iron coming to our neighborhood will only make it more difficult for us to thrive.

Looking ahead to the two-year anniversary of our complaint, I hope we can look back on a lot more progress by then. We have so many battles to still tackle from cleanups of toxic legacy to preventing a new mining operation in our backyards. By that time, I hope there will be no more investigations into General Iron’s environmental violations, no more press conferences, no more hunger strikes, and no more temporary permit denials. We want the City to do what it should’ve done from the start: issue a full denial to General Iron so that our already burdened neighborhood doesn’t take yet another hit and we have a chance to experience the positive community and housing investment that white neighborhoods are accustomed to. We cannot let another year go by without holding the City of Chicago accountable for these actions.

About the Authors

Gina Ramirez

Midwest Outreach Manager

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