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Six-month moratorium on SRO conversions

Mon, Jul 14, 2014

City officials and advocates alike say they are buying time with a six-month moratorium on conversion and demolition of SRO hotels, after losing 2,500 units of this affordable housing to high-end development in the last three years.

Alderman Ameya Pawar (47th ward) with Alderman Walter Burnett (27th ward) during City Hall press conference on SRO moratorium.

Alderman Ameya Pawar (47th ward) with Alderman Walter Burnett (27th ward) during City Hall press conference on SRO moratorium.

Announced during a City Hall press
conference June 25, the moratorium
will place a hold on building permits
for Single Room Occupancy hotels
 through year end. Long-term, the
moratorium will allow developers, possibly rehab units. He suggested advocates, and owners of licensed and unlicensed SROs to discuss a pathway forward, Chicago Building Commissioner Felicia Davis said afterward.

“We are introducing the moratorium so we can buy ourselves some time to introduce a comprehensive solution to save SRO housing,” said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th ward), co-sponsor with Ald. Walter Burnett (27th ward) of a proposed SRO preservation ordinance. “We don’t want Chicago to be only just an island of wealth. To wind up with a homogenous city over the long haul is not sustainable.”

The original proposed ordinance discussed at the ONE Northside convention May 4 would have required SRO developers to preserve between 50 and 80 percent of units as affordable or pay a fee to the City. Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined the discussion in late May.

Burnett said after the June 25 press conference that he appreciated the Mayor’s support in working with the Chicago for All Coalition to seek funds that could subsidize rent and that the City’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance could be a model. The ordinance requires developers who receive city money, city land, a zoning change, or approval of a planned development downtown, to provide 10 percent affordable units or a $100,000 donation per unit to the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund.

Why has the issue gotten the attention of the Mayor and the support of 10 aldermen, all of whom were at the press conference?

“When we brought it to the City’s attention, they saw what we saw,” Burnett said. “So many SROs have been taken away, they saw where all these people have been displaced. No one says where these people have gone. Some people got a mental challenge, like my cousin. Some of these people want to be in the area they grew up in. If you move them out of their area, it can hinder their life. These people are somebody’s family member. You may see just one person but he is connected to a whole lot of people.”
The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) surveyed residents of several SROs last year and found that nearly half had a physical or mental disability and 2 out of 3 ten- ants were over 50, CCH Associate Director of Policy Eithne McMenamin said at the press conference.

“Nearly half of those we surveyed reported that they would be homeless if they lost their current housing,” McMenamin said.

Meanwhile, the City’s current plan to end homelessness requires 3,500 more units of affordable housing just to meet the needs of those people who are already homeless.
McMenamin called the moratorium and eventual preservation ordinance “a step in the right direction of the City, advocates and building owners working collaboratively and creatively to stem the tidal wave of SRO conversions into high-end housing.”
City officials said that about 5,000 to 6,000 units remain in 73 licensed SROs; 30 of the hotels have closed since 2008.

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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