Evanston residents emphasize affordable housing, minimum wage issues


Source: Emiliano Vera

Students protest alongside Chicago workers and activists Wednesday. Around 30 Northwestern students joined the demonstrations, which were part of the national Fight for $15 campaign to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour.

Marissa Page, Assistant City Editor

Activists in Evanston looking to raise the minimum wage say the lack of affordable housing in the city presents an equally important problem.

Residents joined in rallies across Chicago on Wednesday in protesting the Illinois minimum wage as part of a nationwide campaign called Fight for $15. Illinois’ minimum wage is currently $8.25 an hour, just over half of what Fight for $15 says is a fair base salary.

Activists from Connections for the Homeless, an Evanston nonprofit that seeks to improve life for homeless individuals, attended Wednesday’s protests.

“We’re trying to inspire more advocacy related to Fight for $15 in Evanston,” said Sue Loellbach, Connections’ director of development.

Loellbach said the organization has also been supporting other socioeconomic inequality issues in the city. It has focused on engaging community members that are affected by such problems, Loellbach said, as well as backing proposed city ordinances related to affordable housing.

While minimum wage is important, Loellbach said, she emphasized affordable housing as the more pressing issue.

“There’s a lot of people (in Evanston) wanting the minimum wage to raise,” Loellbach said. “For us, affordable housing is also a big issue.”

City Council raised the possibility in late March of implementing a citywide ordinance that would require a certain amount of units for affordable housing in residential buildings. The debate came following criticism from aldermen over the lack of housing downtown available to low- and middle-income residents.

Nonetheless, the minimum wage resonated with Evanston residents as an issue to rally around.

The Fight for $15 campaign — which began in November 2012 when fast food workers in New York walked away from their jobs to protest low salaries — has since garnered widespread support.

Some Evanston residents who protested Wednesday are involved in the Illinois Indiana Regional Organizing Network, which works to organize groups in the two states around public policy issues.

Rose Simon-Smith, the organizer of Evanston’s IIRON campaign, said the group is trying to evaluate how city residents feel about socioeconomic concerns.

“We’ve been meeting with the various aldermen in Evanston about these issues,” she said. “It’s not just about the minimum wage. The issue is a lot more complex than that.”

The Fight for $15 protests also drew advocacy from NU students, around 30 of whom rode buses to The University of Illinois at Chicago on Wednesday to participate in protests near the school’s campus.

“Fighting for social justice for low-wage workers has been something that has motivated a lot of students in the past already,” said SESP junior Emiliano Vera, who attended the rally. “We really hope to see the Fight for $15 … be a sustainable movement.”

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