Alderman In High-Rent Chicago Area Can’t Afford Rent | WBEZ
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Alderman In High-Rent Chicago Neighborhood Can’t Afford His Rent

Updated: 7/12/19 at 6:59 a.m.

The alderman for one of Chicago’s real estate hot spots is getting priced out of the very neighborhood he represents.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly tells WBEZ he can no longer afford the rent at his two River North offices.

Two weeks ago, the 42nd Ward alderman said he closed his political office after the landlord notified him the rent would nearly triple if he renewed the lease at the 5,000-square-foot, industrial space on Ontario Street where he’s worked for years.

“That rent went up astronomically, and we simply couldn't afford it,” said Reilly, adding that the landlord wouldn’t give specifics as to why the rent was increasing. Reilly declined to say how much it would cost to stay.

Chicago's 42nd Ward includes parts of downtown, River North and the Gold Coast.
City of Chicago
Chicago's 42nd Ward includes parts of downtown, River North and the Gold Coast.

Records from the Illinois State Board of Elections show the alderman has most recently reported paying monthly rent checks of $4,607.35 to 372 W. Ontario Limited Partnership. That’s up from $3,600 a month in 2012, records show.

Robert A. Romanoff, the attorney listed on state documents as the agent for the entity that’s behind the limited partnership, directed WBEZ's questions about rent to the properties' managers. Commercial real estate firm Urban Innovations is listed as the broker for both properties Reilly rented – the political office at 372 W. Ontario St. and his ward office at 325 W. Huron St. The firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

As the Democratic Committeeman of the 42nd Ward, Reilly had used the spacious River North political office as a call center. Around election time, the room would buzz with volunteers cold-calling voters on behalf of some candidate Reilly was backing at the time.

But now the 42nd Ward Democratic Organization is calling a 120-square-foot WeWork coworking space home. Reilly said he couldn’t find anything else in River North that was in his price range.

"Obviously property tax increases have an impact on the bottom line and other price factors go into the pressure on rent,” Reilly said.

Between Cook County’s triennial assessment of Chicago-area properties, city tax increases, and changes at the County Assessor’s office, many landlords are seeing increases in their latest property tax bills.

“I think ultimately it's the demand and the hot office market that exists in River North that put me in this precarious situation,” Reilly said. "It was acknowledged that the office market in that neighborhood has changed dramatically in four years. It is hot. People are dying to get office space in River North."

Next week, Reilly will close down his constituent service office on Huron Street, just down the block from his former campaign headquarters. He’s moving the operation to City Hall.

“My predecessor had done that for many years,” Reilly said, adding that he couldn’t rationalize the increased monthly rent payments when his staff saw only four or five walk-ins a week.

“Ninety-five percent of the work we do with constituents is virtual, either over the telephone or the internet,” he said. "So having the physical presence is preferred, but at an exorbitant cost to taxpayers? I simply couldn't justify it."

Each alderman is given a discretionary budget to cover rent, office supplies or other constituent service costs for their ward offices. But for Reilly, that stipend would have barely covered what his landlord said was a “competitive” price for the space.

Still, Reilly doesn’t seem to be phased by the fact that he’s being priced out of his own ward.

He put a positive spin on it, saying his staff will be more efficient and accessible to his constituents. He’s also got plans for mobile office hours.

Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @claudiamorell.

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