Wet and dreary weather didn’t stop 100 members of the Lakeview Action Coalition (LAC) and other supporters from marching Sunday, February 10 in protest of five affordable, Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels purchased in the community in the past year by developer Jamie Purcell of BJB Properties. After BJB’s renovation, the rents are unaffordable for many former SRO tenants.
Marchers started at the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, 615 W. Wellington Ave., and proceeded north on Broadway chanting, “Housing is a human right, we won’t go without a fight.”
They paused at the Abbott Hotel, 721 W. Belmont, one of the most recently sold of the five SROs, and then continued west to Ann Sather restaurant, where they were unsuccessful in speaking to Ald. Tom Tunney (44th ward). The LAC seeks to either block BJB’s permit for renovation of the Abbott or encourage Purcell to designate 50 percent of his units as affordable. Tunney has cooperated with LAC in the past to ensure that the Diplomat Hotel, 3208 N. Sheffield, was purchased by developers of affordable housing who specialize in mental health.
Outside the restaurant, former financial adviser Elizabeth Hartline testified how she had lost her job, then her apartment, wound up in a shelter and finally the Chateau Hotel, 3838 N. Broadway, one of the SROs purchased by BJB. “I know firsthand what is going to happen to the 800 souls that Jamie Purcell is kicking out today.”
Anshe Emet Synagogue is one block south of the Chateau Hotel and Rabbi David Russo expressed support for keeping the neighborhood diverse. “So long as one of us in our community does not have a secure home, none of us can sleep soundly.”
Tunney refused to leave Ann Sather’s kitchen. Though protesters could see him from a distance, he sent employees his business card to suggest they contact his office—a prospect they had already tried, LAC officials said. Eventually, the disappointed marchers were forced to leave under fear of arrest. Later they were told by police they could continue so long as they did not disrupt business.
Meanwhile, roughly 100 residents of the 138-room Chateau Hotel are awaiting relocation by the City of Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) and Catholic Charities, which runs Chicago’s interim housing shelters and other housing programs, in the wake of the hotel’s purchase by BJB Properties. The buyer was revealed in early February by LAC officials.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th ward) asked the city to inspect the Chateau last year and the result was “over one hundred building code violations,” he said in his mid-January email blast explaining that the purchase was underway. In addition, there were concerns about “violent crime, loitering, drug dealing and public intoxication” in the hotel vicinity.
Cappleman told the Chicago Reporter in the January 31 issue, “My focus right now is on saving people’s lives…my first priority is that the residents are safe.” His Chief of Staff, Tressa Feher, said in a telephone interview that the office has been coordinating with Catholic Charities and DFSS and is dedicated to making sure the residents do not move into worse housing.
Social media comments on Google maps shared the alderman’s view. One post noted the hotel was “in bad shape,” though “located on some prime land.” Others called it “the cancer of the neighborhood,” “a place for homeless drug addicts,” and “unclean, unkept and crawling with bugs.” “While the location is great, please do not book here….If you are a journalist, social reformist or a displaced hippy, you could find a lot to write about.”
Following the sale, Chateau residents had been given sketchy notices of eviction, said Lakeview Pantry Director of Education and Advocacy Sreya Sarkar in a telephone interview. The notices did not formally state that the tenants had only 30 days, but that their rent must now be paid on a weekly basis. Because tenants had been given notice, even though vague, no legal action can be taken against BJB to prevent the residents from losing their homes, Sarkar said.
According to the January 4 Lakeview Patch, tenants learned about the sale when they awoke one morning to find the heat turned off and phones no longer in service. Sarkar said utilities have been returned for the time being.A similar situation occurred in September 2011 when tenants of the Sheffield House and Belair Hotel were purchased by BJB, according to Examiner.com. Tenants received notes under their doors “announcing that the hotels were closed, under new ownership, would undergo repairs, and that they were to pack their belongings, turn in their keys, and leave immediately.” Soon after, security disappeared from the premises, utilities were halted, and elevators were disabled.
An LAC press release said that some residents at Sheffield House, previously taken over by BJB, were given only 13 hours notice, “leaving many of them to flee to homeless shelters, other SROs, any friends or family who would take them in, and the street.” Media pressure forced the realty company to extend the legal notice to 30 days, officials said.
A couple living at the Chateau, “Tony” and “Margaret,” (their real names were changed so they would not be kicked out of the building) was profiled in the January 31 Chicago Reporter. Tony and Margaret said they relied on $1066 monthly in disability checks; their monthly rent at the Chateau was $575.
Since the lowest rents listed on the BJB website were $825 in the Lakeview area, the couple said they expected to be priced out of the neighborhood. Married 12 years, Tony and Margaret had moved repeatedly, as their housing became unaffordable.
Cappleman had also posted a letter on his website from Victor F. Ciardelli, the lawyer representing the previous owner of the Chateau. Ciardelli argued that the alderman had “taken an active interest in moving forward with plans to harass, intimidate, and possibly…close the Chateau Hotel.” He also noted that the hotel had “served a vital and humanitarian need in maintaining a single room occupancy” for its tenants, many of whom suffered from physical or mental disability. Claiming that the building remained in “excellent condition,” he stated that its assumed affiliation with crime was a result of the nearby Gill Park. Ciardelli could not be reached for comment.
On February 13, Lakeview Pantry hosted a meeting for Chateau residents with Noah Moskowitz of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, who explained their legal rights in an eviction, Sarkar said. The pantry has provided resource lists for housing and aid in acquiring proper identification.
The Chateau is the fifth Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel BJB has purchased in Lakeview in the past year, totaling what the LAC calls a loss of 700 low-income housing units. Two of the SROs have been renovated into apartments with rents about 40 percent higher than the displaced residents had been paying. Two other SROs are in the process of renovation. They include:
The Belair, 424 W. Diversey Parkway (300 units)
The Sheffield House Hotel, 3834 N. Sheffield, 130 residents displaced
The Ambers, 1632 W. Belmont Ave., 69 individuals and couples displaced
The Abbott, 721 W. Belmont Ave., 87 residents displaced.
The Ambers and the Sheffield House are recognizable by their addresses on the BJB web site in descriptions that obviously cater to a more affluent demographic.
A “vintage midrise smack dab in the midst of Lakeview,” describes the former Ambers in the middle of “some of the coolest, quirkiest, quintessential array of shops, restaurants and attractions this side of Soho.” The renovated apartments feature hardwood floors, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, built-in dishwasher and microwave, elevator, new laundry room and bike storage. Rents for the studios start at $825 to $1095.
The former Sheffield House is listed on the website as “the hip apartment hotel” enjoyed by baseball players in the early 20th century, as in the movie, The Natural. The renovated hotel has the same amenities and rents starting at $845.
Written by Ethan Ross,
StreetWise Editorial Intern