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Housing Exodus: Where will they live? More people, fewer remaining housing units on North lakefront

Wed, Mar 20, 2013

Chateau Hotel at 3838 N. Broadway

Two years ago Elizabeth Hartline lost her job as a financial advisor when the company went under. After a year and a half of being told she was “over qualified” for nearly every job she sought, Hartline also lost her apartment. Her situation was further complicated by an eviction, since paid off but remaining on her record because she can’t afford an attorney to remove it. Five months ago, she wound up at the Chateau Hotel, 3838 N. Broadway.

“I was like, okay this is cool, I’m fine with this,” Hartline said. Though the hotel had unreliable hot water and occasional electric malfunctions, for $565 “it worked.” The single room apartment even came furnished with a bed, dresser, a chair and a TV, as well as a bathroom. And, Hartline added, “I’m not sharing it with 65 people any more” as when she had stayed at a shelter.

But roughly a month ago, Hartline got a 30-day eviction notice: her month-to-month rent was to be terminated. The building had been sold by an unknown owner for renovation and she would be required to search for a new home.

“There are options,” Hartline said after calling dozens of residency hotels from a resource list given to her by the Lakeview Pantry. “But if you have evictions on your credit, those options are limited to maybe two or three.”

Meanwhile, Hartline has begun to pack as she awaits eviction March 5. That’s the same day the building is set for Housing Court, which will determine the ultimate date for their departure.

Hartline is at least grateful for her new job working for Cornerstone Community Outreach where she once stayed before finding the Chateau. “I’m tired of looking for a job. I’m fine,” Hartline said. “It’s only when you lose everything, and you’re at the end of your rope, that something happens.”

Hartline’s level of preparation for this midwinter move differs from her neighbors’ actions.

“The people down the hall aren’t doing anything… People are just sitting and waiting.”

During the last week of February, there were at least 60 and possibly closer to 90 people remaining in the 138-unit Chateau without the benefit of a service provider, explained Sreya Sarkar, director of education and advocacy at Lakeview Pantry, which is across the street from the Chateau. “It’s always difficult to find out how many people are really there,” Sarkar said.

Lakeview Pantry is concerned that with the 30-day notice having ended, the residents could be removed very soon. Many do not have a plan.

Sarkar said, “Whenever a SRO closes, you don’t need to tell them, ‘don’t move out.’ They generally have a tendency not to move out till they’re dragged out… Right now our biggest concern is just the safety of the residents. We’re encouraging people not to do anything illegal, because that is going to make their positions even more vulnerable.”

Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) Spokesperson Matt Smith said that relocation of most Chateau residents has been handled by social service agencies that already serve as their case managers. In early February, “DFSS staff went to the Chateau on several occasions to reach out to residents who might need our help. We also posted flyers and distributed those flyers to residents via property manager offering our services. These services include rental assistance, shelter placement, crisis intervention, public benefits, employment and other resources.”

Denaice Wright in her room at the Chateau Hotel

Last October, the Chateau Hotel failed a building inspection that revealed still more code violations. Chateau residents attended a November 13 Housing Court hearing in order to send the message that “they deserve good maintenance and services at the hotel,” according to a blog on the website for the Lakeview Pantry. “If the management is responsible for the building code violations then the management should change and not necessarily should the hotel close down.”

Also in October, Lakeview Pantry reached out to Ald. James Cappleman (46th ward), who said in a subsequent blog on his website, “I’m currently focused on making the Hotel Chateau safe for current residents, that’s my first priority.”

During the intervening months, Mercy Housing Lakefront had been looking at the Chateau Hotel for the possible development of affordable housing with supportive services offered on-site, according to spokesperson Lisa Kuklinski. Mercy Housing Lakefront learned about the Chateau through its membership in various community groups, such as the Lakeview Action Coalition and Organization of the Northeast (ONE), she said.

“Certainly we were looking at the Chateau, but we were nowhere near making an overture,” Kuklinski said. There was no information yet as to the cost of the building or the number of units that could be created. “We were in the information-gathering stage when the announcement came that the building had been purchased.”

But purchase by Mercy Housing Lakefront would not have helped Chateau residents, Hartline said, because the affordable housing developer has its own waitlist.

This list only opens when an apartment becomes available and then officials go through existing names before adding new ones, Kuklinski said. Mercy Lakefront has 12 buildings, including six in Uptown. Each building has its own list, which is different every day.

“We are not able to offer emergency housing,” Kuklinski said.

Cappleman justified the sale of the Chateau to private developers in a January 31 blog on his website. The 46th ward has more SROs than any other and it is one of few wards where more than 20 percent of the housing stock receives government subsidies. The Chateau hotel had 137 building code violations in just the one-third of the building to which inspectors were allowed access.

“The situation with the Hotel Chateau occurred because the building owner had never been held accountable for the living conditions there,” Cappleman said in the blog post. “Because of that, this building now requires tens of millions of dollars for a complete rehab. In the past, we’ve relied on state and federal dollars to rescue such buildings. That’s not possible today.”

Will Chateau residents be able to remain in the 46th ward? Tressa Feher, Cappleman’s chief of staff, said that it depended on the people’s needs. “We are working with the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) and Catholic Charities,” she said.

Recent budget cuts within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago will not affect Catholic Charities homeless services, according to spokesperson Sheila Haennicke.

Denaice Wright, who lost her job as a certified nursing assistant this past April, came to live with a friend at the Chateau who was generous enough to take her in. Wright has been on the Chicago Housing Authority wait list for scattered site housing for five years; in May she was told housing was available within three to six months but when she asked recently, she couldn’t even get an answer as to where she was on the list. She has been on the list for a Section 8 voucher for five years. “They say it takes three to five years. This is year five and I still have not heard anything.”

Could she afford rent starting at $800 a month – the rate of apartments in five Lakeview hotels being renovated by BJB Properties, the Chateau’s new owner?

“No. And if you could, who would stay in a single room where they can’t turn around and get claustrophobic?” Wright said. “Why would you live in a place like this if you could live better? People don’t live here because they want to, they can’t afford no place else.

“Is it the best place to live?” she continued. “No. But it is a place to live. Until I get up on my feet, staying here is okay. It’s plausible. It beats sleeping out in the park. If [the new owner] jacked the rent up to $850-900, that means people on the fixed income, SSI, cannot afford to live here… That means they’re forced back into streets and back into shelters.”

Chateau Hotel from Sheridan Road

Wright believes she’ll be back in the shelters once she must leave the Chateau, assuming there’s room for her in the middle of winter. Wright faced an eviction in her past after the owner failed to inform her of the increase in rent. As with Hartline, this will make it difficult for her to find a new SRO.

Yet even the free-housing option of shelter life doesn’t always make it easier to find financial stability. Wright also stayed at Cornerstone and called it “a good place for in-between until you can find yourself a job. What makes it different is that you actually got a dresser and a locker that you can keep your stuff in and whatever you can fit under your bed. That’s what makes it better than most shelters.”

Other shelters, however, do not offer guaranteed housing from night to night. “Certain shelters make you carry your stuff with you,” Wright said. “So how can I get a job? I cannot work to get back on my feet, if I have to carry a big suitcase around. How do you explain, if you go to a job for an interview, why you got this big suitcase with you?”

Despite the loss of affordable housing on the North Side, Wright has no interest in living elsewhere. “I’ve always loved being on the North Side,” she said. “I wouldn’t go South. The North Side is more convenient. There’s more networking possibilities.”

Housing is more available on the West and South Sides, where there is also more crime, said Chris Robinson, an outreach supervisor with Heartland Health Outreach, a division of Heartland Alliance. “When people move up North, they’ve made a choice to live on the North Side. That’s where they enjoy living. To be almost forced to return to homelessness or to move back to the South or West Side will be a difficult choice for some.”

If individuals are not connected to some human services agency with access to government-subsidized housing units, their only source of income may be a $710 monthly disability check, which leaves them little money leftover after rent, Robinson said. The Chateau is among nearly 2000 units of SRO housing that have been purchased in the last two years on the North lakefront to be redeveloped for more affluent renters.

“Affordable housing is already scarce in Uptown and the surrounding area,” Robinson said. “To lose 2000 of those units will increase the homeless population unless those individuals decide to move to other sides of town, where housing may be available. Most of the housing that is subsidized is saturated at this time. If they are not linked to any agencies, and do not have a subsidized grant, they will return to homelessness. If they want to stay on the North Side, they will be homeless.”

Heartland Health Outreach has sent PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) workers to the Chateau in an attempt to find individuals with mental illness and link them with providers of housing, mental health and addiction services, he said.

“When we go and make contact, the participant has to follow up. We might know the outcomes 90 days from now. It’s one thing to have engagement, the hope is the participant will follow up and utilize services they are eligible for,” Robinson said.

More temporary housing in Chicago (for as much as a year) would be a good general solution, he said, because it would give people security while social workers piece their new lives together.

Elizabeth Hartline packing in her room at the Chateau Hotel

“A lot of times we help them apply for disability benefits but it takes time and we want to support them as long as needed,” Robinson said. “A lot of them have not had identification or Social Security cards and we may have to get a birth record. We want to be able to engage them and offer them some form of housing immediately, even a room to sleep in.

“If that type of housing was available, you would see a lot less people under viaducts,” he continued. “They are the most vulnerable people. Rather than deal with the hassles some go through in seeking services, they would rather live outside. Our efforts are to reconnect them with people.”

Michael Goldberg, executive director of Heartland Housing, Inc., a division of Heartland Alliance agreed that people displaced from the Chateau and other North Side SROs who lack housing subsidies will be at a disadvantage. Heartland Housing works with the “most vulnerable populations,” those who need affordable housing without paying more than 30 percent of their income.

Property managers at Heartland Housing, Inc.’s 1207 W. Leland and 907 W. Argyle “have seen an uptick in people seeking housing and we are hearing directly that some are coming from these properties that recently closed or that notified residents they have 30 days to move out,” Goldberg said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of vacancies now,” Goldberg added. “We are having to turn folks away, either because we don’t have the units available or the folks have such low incomes that they don’t qualify for the most affordable units in our buildings, the ones that do not have a rental subsidy. We want them to pay only 30 percent of their income as rent with the subsidy as the balance of the rent. The units with a rental subsidy are highly in demand. They have a waiting list.”

By Suzanne Hanney & Ethan Ross
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief & Editorial Intern

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