Thursday, February 24, 2022

Chicago Reader: A theft hidden in plain sight for decades

Question to ask as you read this how does land sale contracts lead to land theft?

The greater Englewood area has been subject to land theft for over 80 years. It’s apparent when you see boarded-up windows and overgrown weeds that cover the community. Empty houses abound, a legacy of the impact that racism has had on the area for years, vacant lots indicating opportunities withheld from aspiring Black homeowners. It’s a crime that Chicago’s Tonika Lewis Johnson, activist, artist, and the National Public Housing Museum’s 2021 resident Artist-as-Instigator, seeks to expose with her project Inequity for Sale.

“In my lifetime, I witnessed disparity get worse and worse in Englewood,” Johnson told me. “I wanted to visualize that by putting land markers in front of homes impacted by land sale contracts . . . over 200 houses sold under land sale contracts are now abandoned or just empty lots.”

Inequity for Sale aims to highlight the negative impact that land sale contracts have had on the greater Englewood area. After learning about the contracts at a community meeting hosted by the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), a community-driven activist organization, Johnson became interested in the idea of visualizing the impact that land sale contracts had on the area through a public art project.

“The actual idea for Inequity for Sale was inspired by a 2019 Duke University report [The Plunder of Black Wealth in Chicago: New Findings on the Lasting Toll of Predatory Housing Contracts] that people forwarded to me,” says Johnson. “I linked up with Amber Hendley, one of the researchers on that report, and she gave our community members a map of all the homes sold in Englewood through land sale contracts, which prompted the idea.”

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