The Neighborhood Network Alliance will be presenting brief interviews with elected officials who represent South Shore. This is the first of these interviews featuring Representative Curtis Tarver.
What communities do you serve?
This district includes all or parts of East Side, Hyde Park, Kenwood, South Chicago, South Shore, and Woodlawn. My district is incredibly diverse. It is also as segregated as it is diverse, which leads to a lot of disparities. I look at what is happening at Hyde Park, where there is a world-renowned university. There is no reason why 53rd Street and 79th Street should look so different.
I’ve been independent as a state representative – I wasn’t sent by anyone. That allows me to advocate. I don’t owe anyone anything. I ran on my own, and wasn’t supported by the party and machine apparatus. I know that if I go down to Springfield and truly keep the community first, it will have my back. It’s not just about being independent, but being willing to do the work. I’m on the finance committee because I want to know what’s up. I get to see every dollar that comes through the city.
One of the reasons there’s a disconnect these days is that people don’t trust government. Being independent is what has allowed me to go and push the envelope. If not, we are going to lose the next generation.
What is your view on education in the community?
I’m very, very big on education - though not so much on the testing of children. Testing kind of perpetuates the gap that we already have.
On a personal level, my daughter goes to school 35 minutes away from where I live. That’s a problem. Schools need to be properly resourced. Children in all communities need to be able to go to good neighborhood schools. One of the things that drives me the most in Springfield is advocating for resources for our communities. It’s really about ensuring that the neighborhoods get the resources they need.
I am the vice chair of three committees – redistricting, the judicial-civil, and revenue committee. I’m also a member of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, otherwise known as JCAR.
What can we do to improve the housing situation in South Shore?
In so many cases, people who live in condominiums have lived in the community for a while – but can’t afford special assessments. Many of these residents live near the lake and their buildings need special assessments because of erosion.
For renters, we have to find ways to keep the level of rent stable in the community. I won’t support rent control, I believe that would have a negative effect. Is the problem that rent is too high, or that people are not earning enough? This is not just a South Shore thing. Economic development brings jobs and meaningful wages to the community. Not every business needs to relocated to Fulton Market. We have to find ways to incubate businesses and provide incentives for businesses in our communities.
We have to find ways incentivize so owners don’t raise rents.
What can we do to address housing issues in our communities? One thing we as a a state and city have to have is conversations with banks to refinance properties, which would lead to more cash flow. I think there’s an opportunity to leverage the fact that the state does so much business with banks. The banks do so much business with our government. It’s worth having a conversation.
In addition, I introduced a bill last year to help with affordable housing in our communities. The bill increased the recordation fee for homebuyers to help fund the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund. It was passed in the House, but has been stuck in the Senate.
What can be done to improve public safety in the community?
I have advocated for police accountability. In many cases, there is no ability to sue a police officer. There’s been a breakdown in community relations with police. That’s not to suggest we’re talking about all police, but Chicago has a history of police officers being on the wrong side. There’s no appetite on the state level for true police accountability, unfortunately. The City of Chicago has the second largest police force in the nation, but we can do better. We have to add the right people, and truly engage the community in ways that are transparent – and provide accountability. I will continue to introduce bills and talk to colleagues, but on the House side, people are skittish about taking on these issues.
How do you see the Obama Presidential Center impacting the community?
With any project of this scale, there will be pros and cons. The pros are obvious: We can draw more people to the South Side that might not have come before. There will be some economic development. The cons? It’s undeniable that the price of housing will rise, and there will be some transition. My role is to keep hearing from communities – they know better than I would what they would need. My job is to listen to them and advocate.
You’ve been active on the Lakefront Erosion Task Force. How is erosion affecting this community?
My vision is that the same attention and resources that are going to other areas, will make it to my district as well. If the city and state are going to ensure that roads will be repaired when water comes to the north side, well – that happens on the south side as well. This is not just an issue that affects a few residents, it affects all of us. It affects bus routes. We want the same ability to traverse to and from work and school as people in any other community.
How do you see yourself engaging with community groups in South Shore?
In the last couple of years, there has been a significant disconnect, even among elected officials because of the pandemic. Many people are asking, “How do I make sure I get through the next day?” It’s been more difficult to remain in contact. Zoom is not the same as in person. I look forward to getting back out, hearing from people at their doors, and making sure that the message is carried to the state house and the city.
Readers, we want to hear from you! What are your comments? What other questions would you like to see answered?