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Residents of two Uptown single-room occupancy hotels have reason to fear future

The Darlington, a single-room-occupancy hotel in Uptown

The Darlington, 4700 N. Racine Ave. a single-room-occupancy hotel, is among two SRO hotels in Uptown where low-income tenants fear being pushed out when the properties are renovated. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Residents of two Uptown single-room occupancy hotels facing major overhauls received assurances from City Hall this week that they don’t have to move just yet.

But the longer-term picture holds little cause for optimism for the 100 or so remaining residents of the Lorali, 1039 W. Lawrence, and the Darlington, 4700 N. Racine Ave.

Both properties appear to be destined soon for market-rate rehabs that will usher in new tenants, send most of the old ones packing and further shrink the supply of affordable housing on the city’s North Side.

Low-income housing advocates thought they’d taken a major step toward solving that problem in 2014 when the City Council passed the SRO Preservation Ordinance.

OPINION

Although the ordinance indeed succeeded in making the process of vacating SRO buildings generally more humane for residents being displaced, it has proven only partially effective at actually keeping such properties affordable for the low-income individuals who have traditionally relied on them.

With that in mind, activists, including former tenants of other lost Uptown SROs, gathered outside the Lorali in the frigid cold Friday to call attention to the situation before the rising tide of gentrification claims more properties.

“In this community, we’re losing SROs at an alarming rate,” said Michael Breckenridge, 65, a CTA worker who has lived for five years at the Darlington.

“At the Darlington, we’ve got some elderly people there. And a lot of these people have been there for years, some of them over 15 years, and in the relocation plans, they don’t include trying to find them some place that they can sustain,” said Breckenridge, the only actual tenant from either of the two buildings to join the demonstration.

News conference outside the Lorali single-room-occupancy hotel, 1039 W. Lawrence Ave.

John Adams (in blue coat), a former resident of the now-closed Wilson Men’s Hotel, was among the speakers at a news conference Friday outside the Lorali, 1039 W. Lawrence Ave. Activists gathered in the frigid cold for the news conference to call attention to the plight of residents who may be pushed out of the few remaining single-room-occupancy hotels in Uptown. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Four years ago, the Dolins family, which owns the Darlington, triggered the SRO Preservation Ordinance when they informed the city they intended to sell the 63-unit building, along with two other SROs they owned on LaSalle Street in Old Town — the Carling and Marshall hotels.

The city was able to work with the Dolins to find a buyer who kept the Carling and Marshall as affordable housing, in large part due to city subsidies.

But on Jan. 28, they sent a letter to the Darlington’s residents informing them they were unable to find an affordable housing buyer and were selling the property instead to a buyer “committed to working with each long-term resident to provide relocation assistance.”

They also informed the tenants that the sale would close at the end of the month and that their “tenancy with us will terminate at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 27.”

That triggered concerns residents would be displaced immediately and led to this week’s reassurances from the city that the tenants don’t have to move.

At the Lorali, a much larger building with 167 single room apartments, a letter from owner Jim Stoller on Dec. 7 caused similar alarm when it advised tenants that the building will be closing for renovations, requiring it to be vacated.

No date was set, but organizers at ONE Northside said tenants were offered a $1,000 bonus if they moved out before the end of February — in addition to the standard $2,000 payout required under the SRO ordinance.

That served to increase pressure on the tenants to relocate quickly, said Gilary Valenzuela of ONE Northside.

The Lorali, 1039 W. Lawrence Ave.,

The Lorali, 1039 W. Lawrence Ave., is one of two single-room occupancy hotels in Uptown facing major overhauls. | Google Streetview

Stoller had previously put the building up for sale, but is currently believed to be proceeding with the rehab on his own.

Clint Sabin, a representative for Stoller, said the 100-year-old building needs a full rehab, which necessitates emptying the building for safety reasons. No date has been set for the work, he said.

“After the rehab, the building will reopen as a mix of low- and moderate-priced housing units,” Sabin said, without defining those terms or specifying how many units will be designated as affordable.

Among those who came out Friday to support the Darlington and Lorali residents was Lamont Burnett, who previously lived a few blocks away at the Wilson Men’s Hotel, an SRO that finished clearing out its residents last year after a long and difficult process.

“We don’t want them to experience what we experienced,” Burnett said.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito