Posted by StreetWise in Magazine Articles
Tenants of a Rogers Park apartment building who are being evicted in the wake of its takeover and redevelopment are asking Ald. Joe Moore (49th ward) to broker an agreement that would transition them into new housing.
“Hey-hey. Ho-ho. BJB has got to go,” shouted tenants of the building at 1246 W. Pratt St. during a July 1 rally in front of Moore’s office. The tenants also said that developer BJB Properties has bought the building and begun cosmetic repairs, while ignoring bedbugs, rodents, broken elevators, mold and other conditions under which they live.
Arbie Bowman said later in a telephone interview that she and her daughter have lived in the building for three years this coming August for $550 a month rent. Bowman said she won a lawsuit against the previous owners, because of bedbugs that caused her daughter nightmares, for which she required counseling. As a result, Bowman said she was allowed to live in the building for six months rent-free.
When BJB took over the building in October, she said she was told she could have 21 days to move and a letter of recommendation. She said she sought moving expenses and has not paid since, because the new management will not accept her rent.
Now Bowman is seeking $8,000 for a group of six tenants, including herself. In addition to the cost of the move, she said she wants to recover the cost of furniture such as beds and dressers, which must be left behind, because new landlords won’t rent to people who came from a building known to be infested with bedbugs.
Melvin Jennings is another member of the group of six tenants, but he said in a telephone interview that he was unsure of the $8,000 amount. “The main thing we want from the alderman is, we want to talk to BJB personally as a tenants group. We want reparations for moving expenses, what they shoulda did at first.” Jennings suggested a 10 percent set aside of affordable housing in the building close to Loyola University and the gentrifying Rogers Park neighborhood.
“The way they came in reminded me of watching an old movie, where they got a town in the West and they know ahead of time the railroad is coming through, there’s some way that town is going to be getting money, they want to get you and your kids out of town.”
“I don’t want the South Side on the North Side, we want a diverse Rogers Park like it’s always been,” Jennings said. “A security guard like I am, or a cook – people not making $50,000 or $60,000 – we want affordable housing. We feel like everyone is against us. We are not trying to stop progress. We want to be a part of it.”
Jennings said that he moved into the building last September 26 and started his lease October 1. He said he had a good faith understanding with the apartment building representative who had keys and leases and that he was a week late with November rent, two weeks late in December and three weeks late in January. The latter payment was returned by registered mail.
He said 12th and 14th floor apartments are being rented out after cosmetic repairs.
Advertised on Craigslist, the listing for 1246 Pratt offers a one-bedroom apartment at $725 with “updated kitchens, rehabbed bathrooms, spacious and open floor plans and brand new, hardwood floors.” BJB is the agent.
Moore said in an email that Joe Slezack, one of the partners who owns the building, told him that when BJB assumed ownership October 31 “the bookkeeping records were horrible, some tenants had leases, others didn’t and they had no way of knowing for sure who was on time with their rent and who was in arrears.
“They say they told each tenant that they were wiping the slate clean and that all tenants were welcome to stay,” Moore said. “Those who chose to stay, however, were required to sign short-term leases and were told they might have to move out of their respective units into other units during the construction period.” Tenants who were being evicted were those who had not signed leases and/or paid rent.
Moore said he had met July 1 with a group of tenants including Bowman and Jennings. However, he said that he thought Bowman had not paid rent for three years because of the condition of her apartment and that she wanted the settlement individually. He said he asked Jennings to give him documentation of his money order payments and a specific demand.
Moore said that Northside Action for Justice and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization had asked him to broker a meeting with the landlords and tenants, which he would not do until he had talked to the tenants to determine if it was warranted. Both groups had not responded to his email by July 3, he wrote.
“Once I get the information I requested, I’ll ask Slezack to work with me to identify solutions, if any, to each tenant’s particular issues and requests,” Moore said.
The alderman said unpermitted work had not taken place but that owners plan “a serious rehabilitation of the building. They have applied for a permit which, among other things, will allow them to install new plumbing and new electrical and a new boiler. I believe they intend to replace the elevator as well.” BJB would not be taking the building down to its studs but for the most part would keep individual units the same size.
Moore said he had always supported set asides of affordable housing, such as through the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund.
BJB also owns the Chateau Hotel, vacated June 21 in Housing Court. Organizers at the Lakeview Action Coalition (now Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside or ONE Northside) said they were in talks with the owner, who had in turn met with eight housing providers as well as Ald. Tom Tunney (44th ward) and Ald. James Cappleman (46th ward) about securing subsidies.
Torey Darin & Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editorial Intern & Editor-In-Chief