On April 1, city building inspectors found 32 code violations at Remake the World (RTW) Veteran Center in Washington Park near a proposed site for the Barack Obama Presidential Library. Since the inspection, RTW leaders have expressed concern that they are being displaced in advance of development associated with the library.
The violations included defective plumbing, a broken fence, and wood rather than tile floors in the kitchen.
RTW Veteran Center provides services to veterans and their families, including food, housing, employment training, and job placement. The center offers similar services for the general public, as well as gang intervention programs and a community garden.
“Unlike the other landowners that the university negotiated with to purchase their land, the veteran center was cited in June of 2015 for 32 code violations, with the city requesting fines of 16,000.00 per day along with seeking receivership for the building. The city asked for these things before the center ever appeared in court. Since then, the center has been struggling to make the repairs and stay open to continue serving the veterans and the general public,” reads a statement from May 15 on the RTW Veteran Center’s website.
“The mission of providing support for veterans is extremely important, and numerous University of Chicago community members have volunteered their time at the RTW Veterans Center. The University is not engaged in discussions regarding the center's property and has no plans to purchase it,” Jeremy Manier, Executive Director of News and Public Affairs at the University, said in an e-mail.
RTW receives no government funding because it does not meet requirements that limit aid to honorably discharged veterans. The organization’s leaders worry that addressing the violations has taken away funding from their programs, which depend on the support of donors.
“We rely on donors, but the donations have been slowing since the inspection,” said Daniel “Doc” Habeel, a Vietnam War veteran and a co-founder of RTW Veteran Center.
According to DNAinfo, the center is the last remaining property not owned by the University or the City of Chicago in the area surrounding the proposed Washington Park location for the presidential library. The University has bought around 10 acres of land around 55th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive since 2008, according to DNAinfo.
“I can’t accuse the University of anything,” Habeel said. “But the library was announced in May, and we got the 32 violations in April. We’ve had violations before, but never for all these tiny things.”
The presidential library has sparked broader debate in Hyde Park and surrounding communities about gentrification and the role of the University on the South Side. Last May, residents of Washington Park presented a list of demands to President Robert Zimmer, the University, and the Obama Foundation calling for benefits to the surrounding neighborhoods, such as a trauma center on the South Side (plans for which were announced in the fall) and local park representatives on the library’s advisory committees. In January, community members expressed concern about using public park land for the library at a meeting.
In February 2014, Student Government donated $1,500 from its administrative budget to the veteran center when it temporarily shut down after the building’s pipes froze and burst.
According to Habeel, the veteran center has reached out to the University for support, but has not received a response.
“The University of Chicago is not our enemy,” Habeel said. “We know they’re patriots. We like Barack Obama, the first African-American commander in chief. All we’re asking for is a dialogue.”