Activists want $500M from city to preserve single-room occupancy housing
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Tenants of affordable housing on the North Side want the city to put $500 million to preserve single-room occupancy hotels — a crucial source of low-cost housing.
The tenants want the city to invest $25 million a year for the next 20 years to help developers of affordable housing buy those buildings — often called SROs — to prevent them from being converted into luxury apartments. They also called for a six-month hold on all SRO sales to stop the evictions of residents when buildings are sold.
SRO buildings are overwhelmingly made up of one-room units that provide low-income tenants with bare-bone essentials — a bed, dresser, sometimes a kitchen and often a communal bathroom — and don’t require a long-term lease.
A 2014 ordinance was intended to preserve SROs in the wake of several buildings being bought and converted into high-end housing by developers. But on Monday, tenants of the Lorali Hotel, the Wilson Men’s Hotel and the Darlington Hotel — all SROs that have been sold or are at risk — joined community organizers from ONE Northside on Monday to say that residents are still being displaced disproportionately.
“These buildings sell and people have to move out,” said Andrew Cannella, 30, who’s lived in the Lorali for 10 months. “It’s one building after another.”
The ordinance requires property owners wishing to sell an SRO to negotiate with developers specializing in affordable housing for six months before giving for-profit developers a chance to buy the building instead. Then, after four more months, if the property still hasn’t sold, the process starts all over again, with sales again restricted to affordable-housing developers for six more months.
The city notably saved the Carling and Marshall hotels recently by coordinating with affordable developers to shoulder some of the costs of purchase and renovation. Chicago Department of Planning and Development deputy commissioner Peter Strazzabosco said 10 SRO buildings and 1,500 units have been saved under the ordinance, with talks to save up to 10 more buildings with 700 total units.
The Lorali has been for sale since January with an asking price of $10 million. A representative of the building said Monday they would love to sell to a group who’d preserve it, but the six-month period is up and neither the city nor any nonprofit developers made any “legitimate offers” on it.
But those developers specializing in affordable housing often can’t meet the asking prices. Two buildings — the Wilson Men’s Hotel and the Hazelton — were sold to high-end developers after the six-month period yielded no sales to affordable developers. That’s why organizers are asking the city to assist these groups financially so that residents aren’t displaced.
Strazzabosco said “there’s been no reduction in resources … since the initiative was launched in 2014.”
The ordinance says owners who want to bypass the six-month negotiating period with nonprofit developers must pay a fee that goes toward a city fund to preserve affordable housing. But only one SRO building owner has opted to pay that fee.
ONE Northside insists city financing is necessary for the ordinance to work.
The Wilson Men’s Hotel was sold last year after offers from affordable developers fell through, and its 150 residents got eviction notices; they have until the end of the month to get out. The building is set to be converted into market-rate housing, though with some affordable units.
Lamont Burnett, 51, was living at Wilson Men’s for 13 years before the building’s sale.
“We’re used to living in Uptown. We have friends here. We made a lot of commitments here,” Burnett said. “[SROs] keep me off the streets.”
Strazzabosco said the city’s commitment hasn’t wavered.
“SROs are a vital housing resource that the city is determined to preserve on behalf of the residents they serve,” he said. “The city will continue to look for opportunities to preserve SROs that may be threatened with market-rate redevelopment.”