March 2, 2011 | Chicago Tribune | Original Article

More minorities moving to suburbs

A decade after moving to west suburban Addison, Andreas Villegas has no regrets.

She chats with her daughter's high school principal regularly, greets police officers by name and attends weekly meetings of a Latino parents group.

"Sometimes I walk by my house in the night and I think, 'In Chicago, I couldn't do this,'" said Villegas, 44, who moved from Mexico to the Chicago area 20 years ago.

The Hispanic population in Addison, a village that in the mid-1990s was accused of housing bias by Latino residents, grew by 45 percent in the last decade, according to the 2010 census. The village was one of many suburbs — including several in outlying Will, McHenry and Kane counties — that saw significant increases in minority populations during the decade.

The influx of minorities has brought cricket fields and spicy restaurant selections to the suburbs, but it has also left leaders in several communities struggling to accommodate, much less integrate, their newest residents.

"When you talk about the challenges of integration, part of the problem is that some of these communities were not built to sustain or increase by 150 percent, let alone by people whose language is from a different country," said Sylvia Zaldivar-Sykes, executive director of the Lake County Community Foundation.

Chicago's suburbs have been booming for decades, and 2000 to 2010 was no different. The same elements that have long fueled suburban growth — affordable housing, jobs, low crime and better schools — now contribute to a rapid minority migration to the long predominantly white-collar counties.

"Immigration is coming right to the suburbs because of jobs and because there are networks that have been established in the suburbs," said Chicago-based demographer Rob Paral.

The greatest number of new suburbanites were Hispanics. More than 62,000 Latino residents settled in Will County, many in Aurora, Joliet and Bolingbrook.

Bolingbrook also saw its Asian population more than double, with a surge of Indian, Pakistani, Filipino and Chinese residents, village officials said. In Naperville, the black, Hispanic and Asian populations were each up by 70 percent or more, while the still much larger non-Hispanic white population dipped slightly.

McHenry County's small African-American community more than doubled, from 1,379 to 3,045, as more blacks chose to live in suburbs like Crystal Lake, Algonquin and Huntley.

And continuing a pattern of past decades, the black population grew in many south suburbs, including Homewood, Matteson and Richton Park.

Carolyn and Ernest Gibson retired to south suburban Olympia Fields during the decade after noting their fellow African-Americans held elected offices and the town's efforts to promote diversity.

But the Gibsons also noticed that the addition of African-American residents didn't automatically translate to diversity. While Olympia Fields added 990 black residents in the last decade, it lost 765 non-Hispanic white residents. The community is now 69 percent black and 24 percent white, according to census statistics.

"People just left without knowing how important it was to work with the new residents," said Gibson, now a village trustee herself. "That has always been devastating to me."

The challenge of integrating minority populations into communities that have long been homogenous is a complex one, according to those who deal with the issue.

For years, the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs has lobbied local officials to adopt affordable housing plans for residents who move to the area to take jobs as nannies, cooks, and landscapers, many of them minorities, said Gail Schechter, the center's executive director.

The center conducts undercover operations to see if minority homebuyers are treated the same as white house hunters. In a recent project, minority actors posing as homebuyers were treated well but were sometimes steered to homes in predominantly minority neighborhoods, Schechter said.

"It is so hard to undo what took so long to create," Schechter said. "I feel like trying to change how these communities look is kind of like moving a glacier."

The village of Addison in 1997 settled a housing bias lawsuit brought by Latino residents. The village denied wrongdoing in the case, but it cost the town $4.3 million in lawyers fees and compensation for residents whose homes had been torn down as part of a redevelopment plan.

Since then, Mayor Larry Hartwig, who took office in 1995, has worked with other community leaders to help longtime residents and newcomers better understand each other.

At Addison Trail High School, Principal Scott Helton has added more than 25 teachers who are fluent in Spanish for a student population that went from 29 percent Latino in 2001 to 54 percent today. The high school also started Padres Latinos en Accion, a group for Spanish-speaking parents.

But merely developing programs for the new minority groups is not enough, said Hartwig, who also helped establish a Unity Task Force of residents representing a cross-section of Addison's ethnic groups. Recently, the task force gathered both parent groups from the high school — Latino and non-Latino — for a combined discussion on school issues.

"It's a little step at a time," Hartwig said. "I don't want to make it sound like the whole world is changing, but it's not a destination, it's a journey."

In Schaumburg, which added more than 4,000 Asians during the decade, many from Southeast Asia, Mayor Al Larson said he has grown accustomed to attending business meetings at Indian restaurants and cultural programs hosted by Sikh leaders.

Because of the influx of Asians, Bolingbrook officials have provided fields for a thriving youth and adult cricket league — especially popular with the town's Pakistani and Indian residents

While such aspects of cultural diversity have enlivened many towns, some communities have found themselves overwhelmed by newcomers.

On a typical Saturday in the Round Lake district of Lake County, lines wind out the doors of the few food pantries. Waterfront homes that were once weekend getaways sit in disrepair and are often inhabited by multiple families.

Without public transportation, some residents walk miles for access to free health care clinics in neighboring communities.

The village of Round Lake more than tripled its Latino population in the last decade, from 1,292 to 4,631. Many Latinos moved there straight from Mexico to take advantage of blue-collar jobs as landscapers, nannies and other service workers, Zaldivar-Sykes said.

But although the new residents helped boost the local economy, they also overwhelmed local school districts, health care facilities and social service agencies that serve poverty-related ills.

Zaldivar-Sykes said she and other advocates are working hard to draw attention to the needs of Lake County and other areas where new immigrant communities have settled with limited resources.

"It's a huge challenge," she said. "People don't realize it unless they see it."