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HUD withholds rental subsidies from South Side building following building code violations

The building has failed 15 inspections since March 2020, according to the city’s Department of Buildings, and residents have complained that conditions there are “inhumane.”

Residents of Ellis Lakeview, 4624 S. Ellis Ave., have pushed for repairs to be made at the South Side building.
Mengshin Lin/Sun-Times

Federal housing officials are withholding rental subsidy payments for March from the owner of a South Side residential building after racking up numerous city code citations, according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The move by federal officials to put pressure on the owner to make repairs at the Ellis Lakeview Apartments, located at 4624 S. Ellis Ave., comes as residents who formed a tenant association have spoken out about the conditions inside. The federal government subsidizes the rent payments, with some residents paying 30% of their income while HUD pays the rest, according to HUD’s website.

“The building needs to be rehabbed, and we need owners that actually do it,” said Tonnett Hammond, one of the residents, at a recent virtual news conference. “And not someone who profits off of low-income tenants.”

Hammond and other residents want the city to take the building owner to court over recent building violations. She said some of the conditions the residents have been living with through the coronavirus pandemic includes poor ventilation and mold.

Mimi Simon, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Buildings, said recent violations were referred to the city’s Department of Law. A spokesperson from the law department did not return a call for comment.

The building, located in the Kenwood area, has failed 15 inspections since March 2020, according to the buildings department’s website. During the most recent inspection Feb. 10, the building owner was cited for having low hot water pressure, rodents, failing to maintain interior walls and ceilings free from holes, failure to maintain windows, failure to repair a broken doors and having loose plumbing fixtures, according to city records.

The federal housing agency cited the Feb. 10 inspection as one of the reasons why it was withholding the rental subsidy payment for March until the repairs were complete, according to letters issued by the agency. As of Friday, the hot water pressure issue had not been fixed, according to HUD.

A resident of Ellis Lakeview, 4624 S. Ellis Ave., enters the South Side building. Federal housing officials are putting pressure on the owner, Apex Chicago LLC, to do repairs following 15 failed city inspections since March 2020.
Mengshin Lin/Sun-Times

HUD directed the building owner to terminate its contract with the rental management company, Integra Affordable Management, because of the citations, according to a letter.

In its letter, HUD stated that residents’ files weren’t being maintained in a secure location, and there were issues with how the company was calculating residents’ incomes. A review that took place Feb. 9 also found that there were more than 200 pending work orders that were more than a week old, according to the HUD letter.

Oron Zarum, of Apex Chicago LLC, has owned the building since 2019. Reached by phone, he estimated that the company has put “almost half a million dollars” into the building, noting fixing the elevator has been costly.

“We are active,” Zarum said. “We aren’t sleeping. We are proactive in doing the best we can for our tenants.”

Zarum said the company was negotiating with HUD and wanted to keep Integra Affordable Management as managers of the property. He said some tenants who have complained about the building want to give the company “a bad name.”

In a statement, Integra Affordable Management said it was challenging HUD’s decision. The company noted the pandemic started months after taking over the property and has caused some challenges.

“...this is a work in progress, but we believe that significant improvements have been made and are continuing to be made, and we are working to win the trust of the residents,” according to the statement.

The conditions residents have been living with through the coronavirus pandemic was first reported by Block Club Chicago.

Eric Sirota, from the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, said during a virtual news conference that residents in the past months have had issues with hot water, trouble getting to mailboxes and garbage in the hallways.

“No one should have to live like this, especially during a pandemic,” Sirota said.

Meagan Bermudez, 23, said issues with the building have gone on for years, but the global health pandemic has shed light on how they’ve been living. Bermudez has lived in the building for the past four years, but she said her mother has lived there for about 12 years.

“The best word is inhumane,” Bermudez said about the conditions. “It just makes you feel like when you go and live there for years, it makes you feel less of a person, less of a human. You see your surroundings, you see trash and all this other stuff.”

Bermudez said she has seen bugs in the building, and her family is worried about what appears to be mold on the carpet inside of the unit and in the hallways.

The building is 11 stories and has 105 units, according to HUD and city records. For about a year, one of the two elevators in the building didn’t work, according to HUD and Bermudez.

Bermudez said her family is also concerned because they were told they owe rent, though she said they weren’t notified that their rental payments had increased.

She recently joined the tenant association hoping to see improvements to the building.

“I just want it to be humane,” Bermudez said. “It’s really just a building with beds and rooms that are available. It’s not really a home.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.