For 25 years, the Leon family’s mariachi music has enlivened thousands of family reunions, community events and festivals in the Pilsen neighborhood. It is part of the Mexican cultural heritage that adorns the Lower West Side of Chicago and has attracted people from all over the city.
But the Leon family members risked losing their longtime connection to Pilsen in 2018, when they lost their home, a small two-bedroom apartment fit for their budget. Karen and Enrique Leon, and their three adult children were told that they could no longer rent there.
“What we saw happened to many other families in Pilsen was happening to us,” said Karen Leon, adding that the community helped grow her family’s livelihood after arriving in Chicago in the late ‘90s from Estado de Mexico, Mexico.
Over the last two decades, thousands of residents have left the predominantly Mexican immigrant neighborhood due to the rising cost of rent, a result of higher property taxes and new developments.
“We had to find a new place to live, but we couldn’t afford anything (comfortable) for our family in the area anymore,” said Leon, who added that medical bills for one of their children and college costs for the other two increased their financial struggle. Determined to stay in the area though, the family of five secured a one-bedroom apartment for about a year.
Then in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Chicago, the Leon family became one of the first six families to become homeowners of an apartment complex bought under the Pilsen Housing Cooperative, the neighborhood’s first and only limited-equity, scattered-site housing cooperative for longtime residents of Pilsen.
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