The Foreclosure Crisis Is Still Hurting Black Homeowners in Chicago (Chicago Magazine)

Last week, on the same day that much of the country paused to measure the distance we’ve come in the fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech, a Chicago theatre company opened a new production of A Raisin in the Sun, the groundbreaking play from a few years before King’s speech.

The show makes you think about how much the housing status of Chicago’s African-Americans has changed—or hasn't—since that era. 

The TimeLine Theatre Co. production places the audience right inside an over-crowded apartment with roaches under the couch and a shared bathroom in the hall. And a troupe of powerful actors gained praise from the Tribune’s theater reviewer, Chris Jones, for offering up what he described as an “Immersive, intimate, visceral, local, emotional, superbly acted production.” 

I’m not Chicago’s theatre critic, but I loved the production. Both the performers and the almost claustrophobic set made it feel more “immersive” than a 50th anniversary production that I saw a few years back on the stage of the former Blackstone Theater, the very stage where Lorraine Hansberry’s script debuted in 1959 before going to Broadway. 

Hansberry borrowed the title of her play from Langston Hughes’s poem A Dream Deferred—a title that could also describe the effect of the housing boom and bust on many of Chicago’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods. If in the Raisin era African-Americans saw their dreams of better living circumstances deferred by racist attitudes that kept them out of certain neighborhoods, now many are struggling with the aftermath of the wreckage that foreclosure brought to their neighborhoods. 

Sixteen Chicago community areas that are majority African-American had ten percent or more of their homes foreclosed between 2008 and 2012, according to Spencer Cowan, vice president of the Woodstock Institute. There were also two Latino-majority and two white-majority neighborhoods where that was true. (That’s 20 out of Chicago’s 77 community areas.) 

 

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