I’ve been in many Chicago apartment buildings that were in worse shape than the federally subsidized Ellis Lakeview Apartments, a 50-year-old, 11-story Kenwood high-rise.
In a way, that’s really the point behind an unusual legal push by the building’s tenants to take control of the property from its owner and turn it over to a court-appointed receiver.
They say: Why wait for the building at 4624 S. Ellis Ave. to deteriorate further than it already has the past two years under the current ownership group?
Why wait for the sort of life-threatening health or safety emergency that normally would be required to justify a serious step like receivership when it’s already clear the building is headed in that direction?
Why wait for their home to become just another neglected property on the low-income housing scrap heap?
Rashidat Williams, an immigrant from Nigeria, moved into Ellis Lakeview in 2014, when the building was still regarded as a well-managed, decent place to live.
“I was so happy I came here then,” Williams says. “Now, everything is just turned upside-down.”
For most of the past year, at least one of the building’s two elevators has been out of service, leaving elderly and disabled residents stranded.
The residents say apartments often have no hot water and that, even when there is some, the hot water pressure is so ridiculously low as to render it of little use.
Mice are a major problem, they say, as are leaky plumbing and water damage, leading to mold. Trash collection is inconsistent, according to the residents, who say security also has become a big concern, with a front door that is often broken, leading to unauthorized visitors.
Since the former owners left, “This building went to hell, turned into New Jack City,” says Tonnett Hammond, 32, who moved in just before the management changes and has stepped up to chair the new Ellis Lakeview Tenants Association.
Longtime tenant Nadrea Satchell echoes that: “Anything goes in this building at this point.”
Residents point to the 2019 purchase of the building by APEX Chicago IL LLC as the turning point in its decline.
Lawyers for the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, which is representing the tenants group, say APEX’s track record, including its principals’ involvement in problem properties in other states, shows the company can’t be trusted to make the needed improvements.
After the city brought a building court lawsuit against APEX in March, citing various code violations, the Shriver Center tried to intervene on behalf of the tenants group.
APEX’s lawyers have opposed that, arguing that the tenants have no legal standing to join the case and that management is fixing the problems as best it can.
In addition to the city, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been pressuring APEX to improve its management of the building, going so far as to temporarily withhold rent subsidies for a period.
The agency also ordered ownership to bring in a new property management company, but it so far has refused.
Eric Sirota, a Shriver Center lawyer, says the tenants believe it would be best for a judge to appoint a third-party receiver who could make the needed repairs and charge the owner for the costs. Payment would come from the federal rental subsidies.
The city has been unwilling to go that far. City lawyers are awaiting the report on a recent inspection before determining whether to update the court case with additional violations.
Courts historically have been reluctant to approve receiverships without giving owners more time to correct problems.
I visited Ellis Lakeview a week ago with state Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, who is among a group of politicians supporting the request for a receiver.
The building’s problems aren’t the sort that necessarily hit you in the face when you walk down the hallway. But, in our discussions with tenants, their discouragement at living under such conditions was very clear.
I’ve seen where these situations can end up: with the heat not working in the dead of winter and a forced evacuation.
In this case, patience is not a virtue.