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Forced out of apartment weeks ago, now living in motel

Some former tenants who had to leave their Avalon Park apartment building — owned by a former Chicago Housing Authority chief — are now living in a motel they said is infested. Others are still waiting for reimbursements.

An apartment building at 1413 E. 79th St., which caught fire in October, in the Avalon Park neighborhood, is seen in this photo. Last month, tenants complained about being forced to leave indefinitely after water and heat in the building were shut off.
Tenants were told in November to leave their apartments indefinitely after water and heat were shut off to the building at 1413 E. 79th St. in Avalon Park.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Margaret Jackson had been living at a Calumet Park motel with her husband for five and a half weeks when, on Christmas Eve, she looked out the window to see two body bags being carried from the building.

She turned to her husband and said, “I got to get out of here.”

(According to the Cook County medical examiner’s office, two men had been found shot to death at the motel.)

Jackson and her husband had ended up at the motel after the apartment building where they lived in Avalon Park was deemed uninhabitable by the city.

Days before Thanksgiving, that building — owned by former CHA chief Vincent Lane — had shut off heat and water with little notice, tenants said. Lane’s son, Craig Lane, said a fire set on the third floor of the building in October had left an untold amount of damage.

In a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Department of Buildings confirmed the apartment building at 1413 E. 79th St. was inspected Nov. 23. Inspectors found “the heating unit was inoperable and there was no running water to the residential units. As a result, the building was ordered vacated for health and safety.”

Tenants were advised to find long-term housing and provided with a list of temporary housing to choose from, according to the statement.

Margaret Jackson talks to reporters on Nov. 23 in front of the apartment building in Avalon Park where she and other tenants said landlords Vincent and Craig Lane shut off heat and water with little warning.
Margaret Jackson talks to reporters on Nov. 23 in front of the apartment building in Avalon Park where she and other tenants said landlords Vincent and Craig Lane shut off heat and water with little warning.
Mark Capapas/Sun-Times file

More than a month later, things haven’t improved for some former tenants.

“This is the fourth hotel for us,” said Jackson, adding that it’s also the worst. “The rooms are filthy, nasty. It’s full of bugs, mice, roaches, ants and spiders.”

She said Craig Lane has been paying for their accommodations, as directed by John Scott, a Department of Buildings deputy commissioner. Jackson had been at another hotel, briefly, before Lane told her he couldn’t afford it anymore.

Jackson said she hasn’t been able to remove all her possessions from her apartment. She said she called Craig Lane Wednesday to complain about conditions at the motel and to ask to move to a location in Hyde Park. According to Jackson, he responded: “Your s--t is going to be put outside,” then hung up.

Contacted by the Sun-Times, Craig Lane said: “We’ve taken care of everything. The tenants have no complaints.” He then hung up.

Craig Lane talks to tenants on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021 in front of the building at 1413 E. 79th St. owned by his father, Vincent Lane. Residents say heat and water have been shut off in the building; one resident is holding up the notice they said they received less than a full day before water was turned off.
Craig Lane, son of landlord Vince Lane, is shown in November, meeting with tenants in front of the building at 1413 E. 79th St. Behind him, one resident holds up the notice they received one day before water was shut off.
Mark Capapas/Sun-Times file

Workers were on site at the building Thursday tossing items from a burned-out window into a trash container below. One of the workers said they had been on site for a few days.

“We’re here to take out the floors, walls, all the damage,” said Carlos Murillo, one of the workers, who would not identify his employer. “It’s burnt, but it’s stable. It’s safe.”

Murillo had no information on how long renovations are expected to take.

A worker dressed in safety gear dumps clothes out of an apartment window into a trash receptacle on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. After an October fire, the building, at 1413 E. 79th St., was deemed uninhabitable by the city.
A worker dressed in safety gear dumps clothes out of an apartment window into a trash bin on Thursday. After an October fire, the building at 1413 E. 79th St. was deemed uninhabitable by the city.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Meanwhile, according to the city, the landlord agreed to pay two tenants a $2,500 relocation fee, to be paid by the landlord, to cover the cost of their security deposit and first month’s rent when they found a new place to live.

Jackson was one of them, but she’s still searching for a new place. She said she and her husband can’t move until their Section 8 voucher comes through.

For others, like Clifford Sullivan, it’s unclear if he’ll get a check at all.

Sullivan and his wife moved to Greater Grand Crossing in November, after Lane shut off the heat and water. They’d lived at the Avalon Park apartment for 10 years.

Unlike Jackson, they weren’t present for Scott’s inspection — though some of their belongings hadn’t been moved yet.

“John Scott asked [Craig Lane] for the $2,500 fee for us,” said Sullivan. “He declined to pay it.”

Sullivan was told only a judge could enforce payment of the fee. Now, he and his wife are waiting for a court date to be set.

He said they haven’t had any contact with Vincent Lane.

“I’m pretty upset about the way everything transpired,” said Sullivan. “But I’m hopeful and prayerful, and waiting for the court date so that we can address these other issues.”

Contributing: Matthew Hendrickson

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

A sign posted at the now-vacant Avalon Park apartment building at 1413 E. 79th St. reads: “Warning ongoing fire scene investigation.”
A sign posted at the now-vacant Avalon Park apartment building at 1413 E. 79th St. reads: “Warning ongoing fire scene investigation.”
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times