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Mary Brooks watering plants inside apartment

Mary Brooks, 66, waters plants in her apartment at 14437-45 S. Halsted St. in Harvey on Friday. The building, where Brooks has lived for nearly four years, was deemed unsafe. About a week after the deadline to evacuate, a crew started boarding up units while tenants like Brooks were still living there.

Ashlee Rezin

Since video went viral of Harvey apartments boarded up — with people inside — tenants struggle to move

Moving boxes filled with coffee mugs, kitchen gadgets and office supplies line Mary Brooks’ south suburban apartment, but she has nowhere to go.

The motel-style apartments at 14437-45 S. Halsted St. in Harvey — where Brooks, 66, has lived nearly four years — were deemed unsafe, and city officials ordered an evacuation of the building by Dec. 29.

About a week after the deadline, a crew started boarding up units while tenants were still living there. Brooks said she was able to stop her apartment from being boarded up. One widely shared video posted on social media showed a boarded up unit as a man’s voice could be heard inside the unit.

More than a week after the videos led to questions about the manner in which the city and the property owners tried to evacuate the buildings, a handful of tenants who remain are struggling to find ways to leave. Some of the wooden boards have been replaced by steel doors and window guards while bright red non-occupancy orders dot the complex.

A red “non-occupancy order” sign sits on the ground as steel doors and window guards are installed on apartments at 14437-45 S. Halsted St. in Harvey last week

A red ‘non-occupancy order’ sign sits on the ground as steel doors and window guards are installed on apartments at 14437-45 S. Halsted St. in Harvey last week.

Ashlee Rezin

“No one cares,” said David Wilson, a community organizer with the Metropolitan Tenants Organization. “No one has a heart because if they did, common sense will tell you, you don’t board up tenants in an apartment while they are still in there.”

Wilson, who has been in touch with the tenants, said some of the remaining residents have found potential new apartments, but they are struggling to find the money to pay application fees, a security deposit or even the first month’s rent. One person asked him for help finding food.

Genevieve Tyler, 47, said her apartment was among those boarded up in early January. She was able to get out of her unit, then later got back into it with the help of her neighbors.

The evacuation comes about six weeks after she was laid off from her job at a meat factory. She found a new apartment, but she doesn’t have the $1,000 needed to cover a security deposit. She plans on viewing another apartment soon.

“I can’t eat because I’m depressed because I’m trying to get out of this place,” Tyler said. “It’s kind of hard when you are by yourself and you don’t have people to help you. I don’t have no family out here.”

Genevieve Tyler looking out doorway of her apartment

Genevieve Tyler, 47, looks out the doorway of her apartment — which lost water and heat following a recent cold snap — at 14437-45 S. Halsted St. in Harvey on Friday. The building was deemed unsafe and city officials ordered an evacuation.

Ashlee Rezin

Tyler said she receives a housing voucher from the Housing Authority of Cook County, but she has little saved to cover moving expenses. She recently sought refuge at a neighbor’s home after her unit temporarily lost water and heat following the cold snap that swept through the area.

For privacy reasons, the Housing Authority of Cook County couldn’t confirm how many of the remaining residents are voucher holders, but spokesman Marcus King said some of the tenants do have vouchers and that the agency is providing additional rental assistance to clients.

King said the agency learned about what happened at the property through social media, and they have been helping residents obtain moving papers to transfer their housing voucher.

“We’ve made contact with the majority of our residents,” he said. “The inspection and the rest of the move will be expedited once a unit has been identified.”

The property was last inspected in the fall by a vendor the agency contracts, and it passed, though such inspections are limited to the unit where the voucher-holder will live, King said.

Harvey officials and the property owners did not respond to questions about how much longer tenants can remain in the property.

The building changed ownership from the Halsted Development Group LLC to the Nevada-based Ascend Property Group LLC in February 2023, according to records from the Cook County clerk’s office. Jay Patel and Henry Cho were identified by Harvey officials as being the owners behind the LLC.

In a statement posted online, Harvey officials said they had sought to evacuate the building in October because “the building’s structural integrity had surpassed its life expectancy.” Then on Dec. 14, the city determined the building posed an “imminent safety risk” because of the deterioration of balconies and stairs.

Officials said Harvey police officers were at the property the day the board-up started, but they did not enter the units, according to the statement. The boarding up was done by hired contractors, according to the city. It’s unclear if other city agencies were on hand during the attempted evacuation of the building.

Local governments do have police powers and can issue an emergency vacate order if a building is deemed dangerous and has been issued code violations, said Kate Walz from the National Housing Law Project. When a similar order is issued in Chicago, Walz said the city usually sends support services to help place residents into a shelter.

“I think we need to know more information, but generally, they should have taken steps — if they didn’t — to ensure the building was properly vacated and secured without harming the tenants who live there,” Walz said. “And clearly the owner had a legal obligation to those tenants to ensure that they were safely relocated, and they had an obligation before that to provide them with habitable housing.”

In a statement Friday, the building’s owners said they hired a law firm that drafted notices in October and December to tenants. They also provided hotel vouchers in October, and they have provided moving costs to tenants who have requested it, according to the statement.

The property owners stated that they wanted to “reopen” the property by March after further repairs are made.

“We aimed to treat the tenants with as much respect and consideration as possible, given the difficult and unexpected circumstances they were facing — including negotiating with the city to prolong the evacuation time, swiftly notifying the residents through various channels, as well as offering concessions to try to aid in this challenging transition,” the owners said in a statement.

Shirley Harvey, 75, had lived in the Harvey apartment building for 11 years with her fiance until December, when she moved to a nearby suburb with the help of her daughter.

Harvey said the apartment complex was decent when she first moved in, but maintenance became less frequent as the building changed ownership through the years. The building had a rodent problem, trash was left in the parking lot and there were various criminal incidents including shootings, she said.

Seeing that things were getting worse, Harvey said she moved into her new apartment Jan. 2, and her unit was among those boarded up before she finished packing all of her belongings.

“I was trying to hurry up and get out of there,” Harvey said. “I couldn’t get my stuff — furniture and my clothes — because I came over here with nothing.”

A crew installs steel doors and window guards on apartment units at 14437-45

A crew installs steel doors and window guards Friday on apartment units at 14437-45 S. Halsted St. in Harvey.

Ashlee Rezin

She’s considering getting an attorney to try to seek her security deposit and the remaining items in her unit.

Brooks was aiming to move by Feb. 1, but that seems more daunting as she continues her search. She says she feels depressed about the situation.

“I’m not hopeful because I’ve already been discouraged because of the credit score not being enough,” Brooks said.

People have offered to help her move, but she’s facing financial hurdles in securing a new place.

Brooks, who is working through medical and mental health problems, said she was homeless before moving into the Harvey apartment, and she wants to ensure wherever she ends up is a permanent home.

She also wants to make sure her prized belongings, including her books and plants — which she affectionately calls her “girls” — make it safely to wherever she ends up.

“You want people out,” Brooks said, “give them ample time, and give them money to move.”

Mary Brooks standing in apartment with walker

Mary Brooks, 66, stands in her apartment at 14437-45 S. Halsted St. in Harvey on Friday.

Ashlee Rezin

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