Tenants lose battle over SRO | WBEZ
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Judge orders Chicago’s Chateau Hotel vacated

A judge has ordered that the three remaining tenants of a single-room occupancy building on Chicago’s Far North Side leave by midnight next Friday.

The Chateau Hotel was the center of a long battle between tenants who believed they were falling victim to gentrification pressures in the city’s Uptown neighborhood, and a new property owner who has acquired several similar buildings in three North Side wards. With this order, BJB Properties, which acquired the building early this year, will be free to tear down the building’s 138 units, and rebuild them into pricier rental units.

“When we lose a big building like that in Uptown, it affects the segregation of the overall city,” said Alan Mills, attorney at the Uptown People’s Law Center. Mills represented two of the tenants who still live in the building in their eviction proceedings. He said his clients both opted to accept financial settlements with BJB Properties when it became clear that Judge William Pileggi would likely issue the order to vacate.

“There is very little housing in the city of Chicago that is both affordable to someone who is for example on SSI, meaning that they make something like $700 a month, and is located in an integrated neighborhood,” said Mills. “The vast majority of that housing is in Uptown.”

Uptown still has the city’s highest concentration of SRO buildings in Chicago, but in recent years it has been shrinking. Many of these old buildings have deteriorated from neglect, while the surrounding neighborhoods, close to the lake, have grown in value. Many have become embroiled in costly proceedings in the city’s buildings court, a situation that has made them ripe for purchase by outside real estate companies who are keen to offload the troubled properties for relatively low prices, and turn them into upmarket housing.

“A lot of the people who were living in the Chateau had issues with their credit,” said Mary Tarullo, a community organizer with the Lakeview Action Coalition, which helped mobilize tenants against the eviction. “An SRO is ... one of the very few places you can go where that’s not an issue.”

Tarullo said city partners, such as Catholic Charities, did what they could to help tenants of the Chateau Hotel find alternative homes. But she said their difficult backgrounds and the dwindling pool of SRO units in the city left some tenants hamstrung.

“We know that a lot of those folks have moved to the South and West Sides. We’ve heard of other people who’ve gone to homeless shelters,” she said. “We know a few people that ... were actually able to find some units at other SROs. And then others are doubling up with friends.”

Tarullo said, however, that her organization has successfully met with BJB Properties owner James Purcell, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and James Cappleman (46th), and several housing providers in Chicago, to discuss rental subsidies in some of the buildings that are being converted. She said they are discussing how to include subsidized housing units in five of Purcell’s buildings on the North Side.

Purcell’s company and attorney did not return phone calls.

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

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