A year after South Side apartment residents asked a judge to address awful living conditions, it’s decision time
City Hall and HUD now agree: People shouldn’t have to live in the conditions faced by residents of the badly run, federally subsidized Ellis Lakeview Apartments in North Kenwood.
Chrishion Reed, a single mom with a 3-year-old daughter, has been sending me videos of the maintenance problems at her North Kenwood apartment.
Like the brownish water that mysteriously percolates up through her floor. And the mice.
And how do I ask her to stop before telling me there’s been a recurrence of the unpleasant thing she says happens sometimes when she flushes the toilet?
It will soon be a full year since I told you about how the residents of Reed’s apartment building, the Ellis Lakeview Apartments, 4624 S. Ellis Ave., were asking a Cook County judge to take control of the deteriorating property from its owner and bring in a receiver to take steps to reverse its downward slide.
And it hasn’t been a good year for those living there. They say conditions at the federally subsidized, 11-story building have only gotten worse.
Until now, Cook County Circuit Judge Lisa Marino has been reluctant to order a receivership — an extreme legal measure the residents say is justified by the owner’s poor track record.
“It’s ridiculous,” Reed told me, especially the mouse she found romping on her daughter’s bed as her daughter lay asleep. “What about all the other moms in the building with little babies?”
Things are expected to come to a head May 31, when Marino is set to consider an emergency motion from the city of Chicago, which has joined the effort to put a receiver in charge of the building after finally being convinced that the owner, APEX Chicago IL LLC, can’t be trusted to fix the situation.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reached the same conclusion. It’s supporting the move to take control of the building away from APEX, arguing that the company has “demonstrated a pattern of noncompliance” in its dealings with the agency regarding both Ellis Lakeview and another federally subsidized building it owns in Waukegan.
HUD has a contract that pays the building’s owner more than $120,000 a month in Section 8 rental subsidies for the 105 apartments at Ellis Lakeview but says it has little leverage to force changes aside from imposing fines.
HUD’s lawyers said in a court filing that the agency’s only other option would be to cancel the rent assistance and move the tenants.
“Not only would this leave the property as an eyesore in the community, it would also disrupt the lives of tenants who have already endured significant disruptions and separate the tenants from their community and institutional ties in the neighborhood,” wrote Erin Gard, a special assistant U.S. attorney representing HUD.
When two housing organizers approached me last year about the Ellis Lakeview situation, I was on the fence about what to do. For all the building’s problems — ranging at the time from broken elevators and poor security to a lack of hot water and other plumbing woes — there are plenty of people in Chicago living in worse circumstances.
But that was the point, they argued: Why wait for this building to fall into complete disrepair and allow what until recently had been a valuable piece of the city’s dwindling affordable housing stock to become uninhabitable?
The past year proved them right.
At a hearing May 3, assistant corporation counsel Steven McKenzie told the judge that efforts to solve the building’s problems had “gone backwards” after a plumbing contractor walked off the job in a contract dispute. Also, the building no longer had a property manager on site. And Peoples Gas had posted a shutoff notice for non-payment.
In an effort to block a receivership, a new team of lawyers for APEX argues there’s been a “sea change” since that hearing: The plumbing contractor is back. Utility bills have been paid, a security company hired, and a new property manager is being interviewed.
They also say the problems aren’t serious enough to justify infringing on their property rights.
But Eric Sirota, who is representing the tenants for the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, isn’t backing off.
“While APEX is in charge of managing this building, tenants are not safe living there,” Sirota says. “We don’t have to wait for a tragedy.”
And I don’t want to wait for Ms. Reed to send me another video.