Rocio Velazquez Kato, 34, is her ancestor’s wildest dream come true; a first-generation American, first-generation college graduate, immigration policy analyst at the Latino Policy Forum, licensed attorney, wife, mother, and as of this spring, a homeowner. Velazquez Kato and her husband had previously owned a River North high-rise condo, but as she explained, “owning a piece of air” was vastly different and not nearly as impressive to her immigrant family. Owning a house, for immigrants, she says, goes beyond even the American dream. “You own a piece of America; you are a part of America.”After seven years of living in their “piece of air,” Velazquez Kato and her husband, who works in finance, began to look for a single-family home in the city they loved, where they grew up and now wanted to raise their son. Excitedly, they turned to their childhood neighborhoods; Ravenswood for her husband, Avondale and Logan Square for Velazquez Kato. The criteria, Velazquez Kato said with a self-aware chuckle, were as follows: near their son’s grandparents, “because we are millennials and like balancing being parents and also being young and fun,” and near public transit because “we are millennials (and) have to be right next to a train.”The couple settled on a single-family home in Logan Square. But in addition to elation, Velazquez Kato felt sort of guilty.Growing up in neighboring Avondale, Velazquez Kato considered Logan Square just as much home as her own block. Her family’s favorite restaurants, her dentist, the bank she and her siblings first made accounts at and her favorite movie theater were all there. In 1990, a year after Velazquez Kato’s family first moved into Avondale, two-thirds of Logan Square — nearly 55,000 people — was Latino.Since 2000, Logan Square has faced continued gentrification accelerated by the popular 606 trail, conversions of historic multifamily units into single-family homes and new luxury developments. All this has resulted in less available affordable housing stock for longtime and low-income residents. The neighborhood has lost 20,000 Latinos in 19 years.“I always say ridiculous things that don’t mean as much as I think they do, but it’s for my own benefit so I can sleep better at night,” Velazquez Kato said. “I say that my home was a vacant lot in between two others houses, but it is very obvious that I must be part of that sort of gentrification.”To describe Velazquez Kato’s move back to Logan Square some may swap out the word gentrification for gentefication.Christian Diaz poses for a portrait with his family, from left, mother Maria Elena Diaz, nieces Aly, Bella, Kaley, and nephew Elijah Vargas on the front porch of their Logan Square home. Now three generations have lived in the community.Gente is the Spanish word for people. Your barrio, your amigos and amigas, your whole race, nation of origin, culture and rowdy neighbors, are all your gente.In 2007, during the height of housing displacement and demographic change in Boyle Heights, a Latino community in L.A., bar owner Guillermo Uribe fused the Spanish word gente and English word gentrification to form the Spanglish word gentefication. Whereas, gentrification refers to the process of communal change in lower-income areas caused by an influx of higher-income residents, gentefication refers specifically to the development and investment of Latino neighborhoods by fellow Latinos, gente.“If gentrification is happening, it might as well be from people who care about the existing culture … it would be best if the gente decide to invest in improvements because they are more likely to preserve its integrity,” Uribe told L.A. Magazine in 2014.So-called gentefiers are often young, upwardly mobile, college-educated Latinos who can afford rising rents in quickly gentrifying, urban barrios. Ethnically, they match the neighborhood’s Latino make up; economically, they fit closer to the new wave of higher-income residents.“Whether it’s … people who grew up, are upwardly mobile and are now moving back, or other upwardly mobile Latinos moving in, it still helps to preserve the Latino identity of those neighborhoods, preserve the Latino cultural institutions and preserve, hopefully, the economic development in those neighborhoods,” Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, said.The challenge becomes whether the preservation of Latino identity extends beyond Latino demographic and physical representation to include affordable housing for longtime low-income residents and a sustainable market for shuttering local businesses.“We are talking about preserving, right?” José Marco-Paredes, another Latino Policy Forum staff member, asked Puente. “What about preserving the people, the low-income families that live there and already have the culture?”Puente raised her own family in Logan Square. Her daughter, who later moved back into the neighborhood, rode her bike around the once-familiar blocks and cried at how unfamiliar they had become. The panaderia (bakery) and butcher shop, the cultural markers of her youth, were gone.“Gentrification happens because there are not concrete planning efforts to preserve mixed economic development or to preserve the cultural history and integrity. We just let market forces take over,” Puente said to Marco-Paredes. “You hear a lot of outcries and you hear a lot of activism but there hasn’t been an intentional effort where all the parties sit down at the table together, the developers, the community leaders, the low-income people and really craft a plan.”Houses are seen on West Diversey Avenue in Logan Square. Demolition and conversion of iconic Chicago two- and three-flats have made way for newer luxury developments.From 2012-2014 to 2015-2017, the share of affordable units in Logan Square, Avondale and Hermosa dropped 12 percentage points, according to the Institute of Housing Studies. In 2015-2017, it comprised just 28.4 percent of the rental supply. With the affordable housing stock plummeting, the three neighborhoods witnessed a 9 percentage point decline in the share of renters that are lower income and nearly a 7 percentage point increase in lower-income renters who live in unaffordable housing units (defined as units that are not affordable at 30 percent of monthly income for a household earning 150 percent of the federal poverty level.)A driving force of this affordable housing decline is the destruction and conversion of historic Chicago two-flats into single-family homes. “My house, on my block, is one of a handful that are single-family homes,” Velazquez Kato said. “Unfortunately … that nice house that I just bought might influence others to buy the (multiunit) house next door and convert it to a nice big house like mine.”In 2016, the Institute of Housing Studies conducted a study measuring the impact of The 606 trail and earlier gentrification on housing in the surrounding West Town, Logan Square and Humboldt Park communities. They divided the area into two along Western Avenue: 606 West and 606 East. In 606 West, the land block comprising parts of Logan Square and Humboldt Park, single-family home prices increased by nearly 140 percent from 2000 to the second quarter of 2016..“We have to ask ourselves when we are getting public amenities in our community, who is going to benefit and who is going to be burdened,” Christian Diaz, the lead housing organizer at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, said. “Unfortunately, The 606 instead became a tool to market this neighborhood to a wealthier clientele.”More luxury single-family homes and condominiums justify higher rents and higher property taxes as the affordable housing stock is shrunk and an area welcomes more high-income residents.“(This) has nothing to do with whether or not my neighbor wants to sell their home and retire to Puerto Rico,” Diaz said. “(This) has everything to do with the way our city treats development and whose needs they prioritize.”Diaz was born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. by his mother as an infant. He has lived in Logan Square since he was a toddler. The three-flat where he grew up is now home to his parents, grandparents, brother and his family. Diaz lives just two blocks away. “This neighborhood is my home. It’s my life,” he said. “To sometimes feel like a stranger in my own community is extremely hurtful.”The only time he was out of the neighborhood was during college. Young, college-educated and with a good income, Diaz could fall into people’s idea of a “gentefier.” But to him gentefication unproductively redirects the housing displacement conversation away from systemic issues.“It’s a little bit of a cop-out,” he said, alluding to displacement naysayers who dismissively toss gentefication into conversation. “Why criticize predominately white power structures when your own people are doing the same thing?” they have asked.“The difference,” he said, “is power.” The power awarded by a history of racist and exclusionary housing policies.Diaz would remind homeowners like Velazquez Kato that just because you may benefit from gentrification, does not mean you can’t help mitigate its negative effects. “As a homeowner, you have a lot of power, maybe even a responsibility, to advocate for the people, the neighbors who are more vulnerable,” he said.Velazquez Kato’s father still lives in Avondale. Her mother passed when she was a teen. “I have never seen so many young, white professionals on my dad’s block,” she said. “He’s again the minority.” Velazquez Kato and her father live on the same street, Albany, now with one in Avondale and the other in Logan Square. He was proud of her first home purchase. “For him it was ‘you bought a piece of land right next to your family’s land.’ It felt very familiar and right and like we fulfilled a part of their American dream.” firstname.lastname@example.orgJoin our Chicago Dream Homes Facebook group for more luxury listings and real estate news.