SRO tenants meet with developer

Hope is to preserve affordable housing on North Side

April 13, 2013

(WBEZ/Robin Amer)
Remaining tenants of the Chateau Hotel were told Friday that they have 30 days to vacate the building. The SRO is one of several affordable housing buildings bought in recent years by real estate developer James Purcell.

In an attempt to stop several single-room occupancy hotels from converting to higher-priced rental housing, tenants of a North Side SRO met Friday with the new owner of their troubled building. The Chateau Hotel is among the latest of these buildings to switch ownership. Aldermen Thomas Tunney (44th), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and the Lakeview Action Coalition also attended Friday’s meeting, which was held at the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ. Ald. James Cappleman (46th) had not been invited.

For months, housing and neighborhood activists speculated about who was the person behind the land trust that purchased the Chateau Hotel. This week, that was revealed to be Jamie Purcell, owner of the real estate company BJB Properties. Purcell has also purchased several other properties in Lakeview, Uptown and Rogers Park, neighborhoods which had historically provided low market-rate housing on the North Side.

“We are disappointed with the results of our meeting,” said Chateau Hotel resident Keith Burnett. According to Burnett, Purcell declined to commit to all but one of the tenants’ ten demands. Among other things, the tenants sought to make all of that SRO’s units affordable, and to keep the building open during renovations. They also asked that all units remain affordable at the Abbot Hotel, a Lakeview SRO where tenants were recently evicted during renovations. The tenants want Purcell’s company to waive credit checks for prospective tenants, to make payment plans with tenants who need them, and to limit criminal background checks to only the past two years, with no penalty for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.

According to several attendees, the only item that Purcell agreed to consider was the use of public subsidies to make some of the units affordable to low-income people. Coming out of the meeting, Tunney said that there’s no commitment, only that the parties would “keep exploring the programs.”

“We’re connecting the resources, we’re going to connect more resources, and there’s an effort to keep communicating and keep moving forward, hopefully with affordable programs that work obviously for our residents and also work with the developer,” he said.

Tunney said some programs affiliated with the city’s Low-Income Trust Fund, such as the Multi-year Affordability through Upfront Investment program, may be applicable to the Chateau Hotel. He added that he and organizers will also explore subsidy options through the Chicago Housing Authority, as well as Thresholds, an organization that provides housing for the mentally ill. “The problem is we, as a city, do not have the kind of resources to maintain SRO housing at the affordable rates,” he said.

Also on Friday afternoon, some remaining Chateau Hotel tenants met with representatives of Catholic Charities and the Department of Family and Support Services to discuss alternative housing options. Tenant Robert Rohdenburg reported, “We were told that the goal of this process is to move as many people as possible out of the Chateau Hotel within the next 30 days.”

Rohdenburg said he wants to stay in the Uptown neighborhood because it is close to a storage unit where he keeps many of his belongings, as well as human services providers that he frequents. But he said it has been difficult to find affordable places, now that that many are filling up with SRO tenants who had recently been turned out of the Chateau Hotel, the Abbot Hotel, and a men’s hotel that was recently at risk of being closed.

Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau Reporter. Follow her at @oyousef.