Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=216126
Story Retrieval Date: 12/11/2013 11:59:35 PM CST
Protestors in Lakeview marched to Ann Sather, the restaurant owned by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) recently, seeking support for the preservation of low-income units in a soon-to-be-rehabbed SRO.
Loss of low-income housing may be causing displacement, segregation of the poor
Chants of protestors petitioning Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) to preserve low-income housing in Lakeview.
As plans move forward to close and remodel a single-room occupancy hotel in Lakeview, housing advocates are raising concerns that the North Side is losing too much low-income housing, resulting in displacement and segregation of the poor to the city’s farthest corners.
The Chateau Hotel, a single-room occupancy hotel that stands in violation of several health and building ordinances and is considered by many to be a neighborhood blight, was recently purchased by BJB Properties. The company has previously bought four North Side SRO hotels, evicting the residents and rehabbing the properties into apartments with much higher rents. On Jan. 30, Chateau Hotel residents received 30-day eviction notices so that the building can be gutted and renovated.
“This is a real problem that the tenants at the Chateau are facing,” said Mary Trullo of the Lakeview Action Coalition. “There are very few options at this point.”
Trullo and others at Lakeview Action Coalition are concerned that the rehabbing of the Chateau Hotel is a symptom of a bigger problem: as gentrification increases the desirability of North Side neighborhoods, SRO buildings, often in poor condition, are being bought at low-prices before being remodeled into more expensive spaces. The result is displacement of low-income residents, who, once evicted, may face few alternative housing options.
Chateau residents are not surrendering their dwelling without a fight. Chanting cries of "Ain’t no power like the power of the people” and holding signs reading "Save our Home" and "Lakeview for All," hotel residents and their supporters gathered together on a rainy Sunday to protest the decline of low-income housing in Chicago’s North Side. The protest, held Feb. 10 in Lakeview, was organized by Chateau residents and the Lakeview Action
“When these SROs were closing in the very beginning, there was some chance for people who were displaced to be relocated at another SRO,” Trullo said. “But now that five on the North Side have closed or are in the process of being closed, there are way fewer options now.”
Trullo said while there is low-income housing in North Side neighborhoods provided by non-profits and the Chicago Housing Authority, the number of displaced residents overwhelms these organizations’ resources.
"Those waiting lists to get in there are sometimes closed," Trullo said. "They’re so full you can’t even get on the waiting list. There are stories all the time of when those waiting lists do open, of people camping out overnight, around the block, because there is such a high demand."
Emily Blum, director of communications for Heartland Alliance, agreed that the need for low-income housing in North Side is great. Even though Heartland’s properties are not open-housing and require prospective tenants to meet certain requirements, Blum said that the majority of Heartland’s buildings are still on a waitlist and agreed that there is more need for low-income housing on the North Side than can be met by the area’s non-profits.
Leah Levinger, coordinator of Chicago Housing Initiative, said she has known couples that were placed on non-profit and CHA waitlists before their kids were born. Those kids were in their late teens before the family was placed in housing.
“They are tentatively told five to eight years, but the truth is it’s more like 10 to 15,” Levinger said. “We’ve known several families that have been on waitlists for 10 or more years.”
The result is a continual process of displacement as families and individuals move from homeless shelters to SROs and then back to shelters as the SROs close, Levinger said.
“People can’t root in a community or a school system,” Levinger said. “It creates a cycle of moving from place to place to place in search of affordable rent for as long as you can stay there.”
Rent hikes and SRO closings are most common in rapidly gentrifying areas such as the North Side, the Loop and West Loop, Levinger said. But the displacement of low-income tenants may be affecting the entire city, as former North Side residents move to outlying areas still offering affordable housing, usually the far West and far South sides and the suburbs.
“It’s effectively a re-segregator of Chicago by income,” Levinger said.
Brian Worth, executive director of Community Housing Advocacy & Development in the city’s western suburbs, agreed that displaced people are being pushed into communities on the city’s outskirts. Though Worth’s organization mostly serves families, Worth said he did believe a lot of former SRO tenants are ending up in shelters in western areas.
Worth said many SRO tenants are disabled veterans or are mentally challenged, which may make it more difficult for them to find replacement housing.
Residents at the Chateau Hotel plan to continue their petitions to their alderman and their new landlord to keep some units in the remodeled building priced affordably. Erin Duffy, director of community outreach for 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney, said the alderman is staying informed about the situation and will meet with Lakeview Action Coalition next week.
But the odds of affordable rents at the remodeled Chateau may be slim. Rent prices at remodeled BJB buildings range from $650 to $2,695, according to the company’s website, and Levinger says finding affordable units in former SROs is unlikely.
“Buying and rehabbing SROs is such a new phenomenon, so we can’t speak definitively,” Levinger said. “But the trend so far, without exception, is when the SRO is bought and rehabbed no affordable units are kept after the renovation.”