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Brown: CHA seeks to buy North Side senior apartment buildings

Residents of Crowder Place, 3801 N. Pine Grove, in October. File Photo.. |Mark Brown/ Sun-Times

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The Chicago Housing Authority is stepping in to buy three apartment buildings from a nonprofit owner that had sought to displace the elderly residents to cash in on a hot real estate market.

It’s a bit of a surprise twist for the residents of Presbyterian Homes’ three North Side properties, who were informed in August that their homes were to be sold to market-rate developers and that they would be required to move.

Most of the 100 residents were caught off guard at the time because they say they received previous assurances from Presbyterian Homes that they could remain in their privately subsidized apartments for life.

Rather than accept cash buyouts to relocate, the residents organized, fought back with the help of elected officials and brought their story to me. When none of that seemed to work, they filed a class action lawsuit.

The resulting sale to CHA would appear to be a positive outcome to the dispute, although questions remain about exactly how the agency proposes to deal with the tenants.


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“We’re greatly relieved we’ve got this far, but it isn’t over,” said Susan McCormick, 71, one of the residents.

A sale agreement reached just before Christmas includes a provision that the CHA “will attempt” to assist existing tenants to remain in their apartments at affordable rents through its rental assistance program. The deal also requires CHA to “provide relocation assistance to ineligible tenants.”

The tenants are taking the position that everyone should be allowed to remain — and that even those who moved out for fear of being left without a place to live should be allowed to return.

“We really want to keep our home, not just our house,” McCormick said, referring to the unusually close bond between many of the residents.

In an interview Tuesday, CHA officials told me they don’t expect any residents to be displaced.

Neither party has disclosed the sale price, which is believed to be close to $20 million.

The three buildings being sold as a package include: Mulvey Place, 416 W. Barry; Crowder Place, 3801 N. Pine Grove; and Devon Place, 1950 W. Devon.

One of the contingencies in the sale agreement requires Presbyterian Homes to resolve the tenant lawsuit before the deal is scheduled to close March 2.

A sticking point is whether the tenants will have lifetime leases, as they say they were promised.

Presbyterian Homes maintains the tenants had only month-to-month leases and that each signed an agreement allowing for their rental subsidy to be terminated with 60 days notice.

The big advantage to the buildings being taken over by the CHA is that the apartments would be preserved as affordable senior housing far into the future in neighborhoods where low-income elderly residents are being increasingly priced out of the market.

The need for such housing is only going to increase in coming years as too many members of the Baby Boom generation reach retirement age without enough savings to reach the finish line.

“This is a wonderful way to get affordable units in strong markets,” said Stacie Young, director of the Preservation Compact, a housing policy collaborative that helped arrange the marriage between CHA and Presbyterian Homes.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Mulvey Place, called the deal a “win-win” for everyone.

Although greatly relieved, residents say they still are awaiting a promised meeting with CHA officials to learn the particulars of what happens next. Most have never lived in CHA housing.

“We’re not under the guillotine any more,” said Betty Holcomb, a Crowder Place resident who said some of her neighbors are wary of the CHA takeover while others “are fine with it.”

Presbyterian Homes, which last month changed its name to Westminster Place, has informed the residents they can still accept the buyout if they would prefer.

The purchase must also be approved by the CHA board and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees CHA’s federal funding.

Until it’s a done deal and the residents are satisfied, I’m not satisfied. But the situation looks a lot better than it did in September.

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