South Side tenants demanding improvements to apartments push for citywide changes

After months of seeking repairs to their apartment buildings, some South Side residents demand even more changes to improve the quality of life for renters, they say.

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Phyllis Wilson, a tenant of a building in Park Manor, speaks about poor living conditions in her building. Thursday, April 21, 2022.

Phyllis Wilson, a tenant of a building in Park Manor, speaks about poor living conditions in her building. Thursday, April 21, 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

After months of seeking repairs to their South Side buildings, some tenants are among those pushing for an ordinance that would proactively inspect buildings for possible code violations.

JoLondon Jamerson, who lives in Chatham, is among a group of residents who joined housing activists Thursday in the 7900 block of South Langley Avenue to call for the city to pass an ordinance that would create a pilot program for proactive inspections and a rental registry. They also want federal officials to look into the loans landlords have been able to secure to maintain ownership of the properties in question.

“We’ve got out of town people from New York and California coming in the Chicago area, buying up buildings for a little bit of money,” Jamerson said. “And what they do is they come in, they put on bandaids on cancer buildings — buildings that need to be totally gutted out and taken over with precautions.”

Jamerson and other residents said for months they’ve tried to seek changes to their apartment buildings because of a lack of heat, pest and rodent issues and possible mold.

JoLondon Jamerson, a tenant of a building managed by BSD Realty, speaks about poor living conditions in her building on Thursday, April 21, 2022.

JoLondon Jamerson, a tenant of a building managed by BSD Realty, speaks about poor living conditions in her building on Thursday, April 21, 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

In February, city officials filed a housing complaint against Jamerson’s landlords, and that case remained pending as of Thursday in the Circuit Court of Cook County. During a March 31 virtual court hearing, an attorney representing the owner of the building said they were still working toward making repairs. They will return to court April 28.

Phyllis Wilson, who lives in a different apartment building in Park Manor, said she and her neighbors have been dealing with issues ranging from a flooded basement that is used as storage space to roof issues. Wilson, who said many of her neighbors are seniors, said that the building, located at 7300 S. Wabash Ave., has changed hands several times within the past two years.

“We just want to have a living and loving place with living and acceptable conditions to live in our apartment,” Wilson said.

In March, the city also filed a housing complaint against the property where Wilson lives, which remains pending.

Eli Sieger is listed in the housing complaint as the owner of the property. Earlier this year, Sieger told the Chicago Sun-Times that he purchased the properties located at 319. E. 79th St., 219 E. 79th St., and 7908 S. Prairie Ave. Those properties include where Jamerson lives.

Sam Clendenning, a community organizer with the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, said he and his co-workers have identified dozens of buildings on the city’s South Side just by walking through the neighborhoods that have possible code violations and similar issues like those described by the tenants who spoke Thursday.

“This problem is endemic,” Clendenning said.

The tenants were hoping to speak Thursday to Ald. Roderick Sawyer, whose 6th Ward includes some of the properties, but were told he would meet with them next week because he didn’t feel well. The tenants are hoping Sawyer will back the ordinance that will lead to more building inspections.

Sam Clendenning, Community Organizer for the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, speaks at a press conference about poor living conditions in South Side buildings. Thursday, April 21, 2022.

Sam Clendenning, Community Organizer for the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, speaks at a press conference about poor living conditions in South Side buildings. Thursday, April 21, 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The Rev. Tavis Grant, the national field director for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, joined the tenants is asking federal officials to look into the owners of the properties.

“Public housing, private housing and quality housing must be a priority in our communities,” Grant said. “And we’ve had enough, it’s time to fight back.”

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

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