In a case of better late than never, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration on Tuesday called for a six-month moratorium on the conversion or demolition of Single Room Occupancy housing and residential hotels.
The moratorium comes more than a year after low-income housing advocates began raising alarms about the rapid disappearance of affordable SRO units, regarded as the housing option of last resort for thousands of Chicagoans.
The phenomenon has been driven by a group of savvy developers who figured out they could buy up the buildings, throw out the old tenants, then remodel the tiny apartments and rent them out at higher prices to a more upscale clientele. Most of the conversions have taken place on the North Side, where the poor are fast becoming an endangered species.
The moratorium also comes just months after a coalition of advocacy groups began pushing its own ordinance to deal with the problem by requiring owners of SRO buildings to keep the apartments priced affordably or pay a hefty fee into a special SRO preservation fund if they convert them.
Before that effort could get out of City Hall’s control, the mayor’s office jumped in to see if it could work out a compromise solution with the neighborhood groups and aldermen who had taken up their cause.
Still without an agreement on a long-term solution, the mayor’s office announced Tuesday the city would impose the moratorium while negotiations continue on a broader ordinance that “balances the need for economic growth with affordable housing options.”
That was obviously a nod to building owners and developers who no doubt will be none too pleased with the mayor for doing anything that threatens their property values by interfering with the normal laws of supply and demand in the real estate market.
Just the same, most of them were apoplectic about the draft ordinance originally circulated, and this approach at least offers the possibility of finding an agreement more to their liking.
Of course, Emanuel already is the darling of the development community, and recent political polls have shown he might benefit from more evidence he’s looking out for the little people as well.