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Senior tenants at low-income buildings push for safer building conditions

Residents of River North’s Evergreen Towers I and II call on management to restore safety measures that they said were scaled back during the coronavirus pandemic.

State Rep. Lakesia Collins speaks Wednesday outside Evergreen Tower II demanding that the owner of the building invest more for residents’ safety.
State Rep. Lakesia Collins speaks Wednesday outside Evergreen Tower II demanding that the owner of the building invest more for residents’ safety.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Senior tenants at two affordable housing buildings are calling for management to increase security services that they say were scaled back during the coronavirus pandemic.

Residents of Evergreen Towers I and II, in River North, and the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, a Chicago-based senior citizen advocacy group, this week demanded that management invest in their safety with 24-hour security and an independent, full-time service coordinator. Currently, one of the buildings has a part-time service coordinator who is affiliated with management.

UPholdings, the affordable housing and management company, first met with the tenants in the spring, according to the the Jane Addams Senior Caucus. In May, the tenants organized a 311 call campaign, where they collectively filed complaints with the city about the building conditions.

In August, management added a security camera monitoring system and personnel to monitor the security footage. Cullen Davis, the property owner, said the change expanded security services.

“Management and ownership are completely committed to making sure that our residents have a good experience,” Davis said. “We understand that change the technology can be difficult sometimes but think that, ultimately, this is going to provide a better, more long-term secure, affordable housing for seniors in a neighborhood where affordable housing is rapidly diminishing.”

But tenants maintain the monitoring service does not adequately meet standards for care. Lisa Johnson said she has lived at Evergreen Towers about 10 years. Without 24-hour security, she said emergency vehicles do not have easy access to the building, which can be life-threatening for tenants in need of medical treatment.

In the past, Johnson called an ambulance for herself and had to take the elevator to give the paramedics building access.

“I had to be treated by the ambulance in the lobby because they could not get let in,” Johnson said.

Jacqueline Reynolds, the president of Evergreen Towers I, wants to see personnel monitor who is entering the building. She said the buildings gets a lot of unwanted guests, and tenants are currently afraid to leave their apartment after 5 p.m because they do not feel safe.

Tenants like Reynolds said Wednesday that before the pandemic, security personnel was monitoring the front desk around the clock. Davis, the owner, however, said there has never been 24-hour security at Evergreen Towers.

A city ordinance passed in July 2020 requiring owners of senior buildings to conduct well-being checks twice a week. Management paid residents of Evergreen Towers to conduct these check-ups, but tenants have repeatedly said an independent, full-time service coordinator needs to fill that role.

“Seniors all over Chicago came together with an ordinance that you did not follow,” Reynolds said, speaking about Davis, the owner. She said she was one of the tenants who carried out wellness checks at the start of the pandemic. “You stripped away our security and our service coordinator, and that made seniors start to feel unsafe.”

Davis maintains that UPHoldings is in compliance with the city ordinance.

State Rep. Lakesia Collins said she has been in conversation with the owner about addressing the needs of senior tenants. “It is simple. Do what you’re supposed to do, Cullen Davis. Make sure that our seniors have 24-hour security, make sure that they’re doing wellness checks in these facilities,” Collins said.

The tenants also demanded on Wednesday that Davis and building management implement fire safety drills and monthly extermination of all units.