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Friday, October 5, 2018

Landlords for rent control? You heard that right

Posted By on 10.05.18 at 08:41 AM

A member of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus listens to state senate testimony about a bill that would enact rent regulation in Illinois - MAYA DUKMASOVA
  • Maya Dukmasova
  • A member of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus listens to state senate testimony about a bill that would enact rent regulation in Illinois

Last week several hundred people packed a state senate hearing room and spilled out into the overflow seating for the latest chapter in the local fight for rent regulation. The hearing, chaired by state senator Mattie Hunter of Chicago, was one of a series soliciting responses to a bill that would not only repeal Illinois's Rent Control Preemption Act but actually establish rent control within the state for the first time since the early 1970s.

Hunter introduced Senate Bill 3512 last February as a companion measure to state rep Will Guzzardi's House Bill 2430. Guzzardi's bill merely proposes to repeal the 1997 Rent Control Preemption Act—a prohibition on any kind of rent regulation, anywhere in the state, that was crafted by real estate interests and jammed through many U.S. statehouses beginning in the 1980s, with the help of the ultraconservative American Legislative Exchange Council. But Hunter's bill goes much further.

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

R. Kelly’s Chicago studio and alleged ‘cult’ outpost for sale—with him in it

Posted By on 08.09.18 at 06:02 PM

The building in question, at 219 N. Justine - MAYA DUKMASOVA
  • Maya Dukmasova
  • The building in question, at 219 N. Justine

R. Kelly's Chicago studio at 219 N. Justine is listed for sale for nearly $4.5 million by the current owner, Wisconsin-based Midwest Commercial Funding LLC. The West Loop studio space, outfitted with window bars and surveillance cameras, is also the place where the R&B star has allegedly kept an entourage of women (other reporting has used the words "cult" or "harem") confined during his stints in the city.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Lost battle on affordable housing means war on aldermanic prerogative will continue

Posted By on 06.26.18 at 05:49 PM

Forty-first Ward alderman Anthony Napolitano - BRIAN JACKSON/SUN TIMES
  • Brian Jackson/Sun Times
  • Forty-first Ward alderman Anthony Napolitano

Silence settled on City Council chambers Tuesday afternoon as zoning committee members voted narrowly to defeat an embattled proposal to build a new apartment building with 30 units of affordable housing near O’Hare airport. In a vote of seven to five, the committee sided with 41st Ward alderman Anthony Napolitano, who's been trying to derail the project for the last year. Though it's a loss for affordable housing advocates and the developer, the decision leaves opens the possibility of a federal court banning Chicago's age-old practice of "aldermanic prerogative."

As the Reader reported in January, Napolitano and his ward-level zoning advisory committee initially supported the 300-unit apartment building proposed by luxury developer GlenStar. But in the spring of 2017 the alderman reversed his position after tensions flared around a proposed affordable-housing building in nearby Jefferson Park. By then GlenStar had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing its proposal and conducting feasibility studies. The city's Plan Commission approved GlenStar's proposal last summer, with one member—44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney—saying there should be more on-site affordable housing than initially proposed. GlenStar complied, and, in full accordance with the city's Affordable Requirements Ordinance, planned to reserve 10 percent of the building—30 units—as affordable.

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Fight for right to camp on city streets will continue despite legal setback, homeless advocates say

Posted By on 06.07.18 at 06:27 PM

Dozens of people who lived under the Lake Shore Drive viaducts in Uptown have been displaced since construction began in September 2017. - MARK BROWN/SUN-TIMES
  • Mark Brown/Sun-Times
  • Dozens of people who lived under the Lake Shore Drive viaducts in Uptown have been displaced since construction began in September 2017.

A day after a federal judge dismissed Uptown Tent City Organizers' lawsuit against the City of Chicago, the homeless organization's attorneys are vowing to continue a court battle for the right of those who have been displaced by authorities to camp out in the streets.

The dispute between Uptown's homeless residents and the city stretches back years. A mass sweep of homeless people living under the Lake Shore Drive viaducts in the neighborhood occurred ahead of a 2015 Mumford & Sons concert at Montrose Beach. This led a few dozen who'd been moved to camp out around Stewart Elementary School, which had been shuttered as part of the 2013 wave of school closures. The homeless were soon removed from this land, too, when in September 2016 the city fenced in the school in preparation for the building's redevelopment into luxury housing.

After that many tent dwellers came back to the Lake Shore Drive viaducts at Wilson and Lawrence Avenues. But in 2017 the city began construction at the viaducts, and homeless residents were once again displaced. Many lost possessions as city garbage trucks collected their belongings to clear the sidewalks.

Throughout the spring and summer of 2017, Uptown Tent City Organizers sought permits on the homeless people's behalf that would allow them to resume camping on the the land around Stewart school temporarily, until the viaduct construction was completed. After the city denied these permits and an administrative court sided with the city, the group sued the city in state court, asking a Cook County circuit court judge to review the decision.

The matter ended up before a federal judge in June 2017, and there the Tent City Organizers, represented by the Uptown People's Law Center, expanded their case into a full constitutional complaint. UPLC claimed that the city was violating the homeless people's First Amendment rights by not allowing them to assemble in their tents and use their tents as symbols of protest of the city's housing policies; their Fourth Amendment rights by seizing and discarding their property; their Fifth Amendment rights because the homeless people didn't receive a hearing before having their property confiscated; and their Eighth Amendment rights by effectively criminalizing homelessness. The city's actions were "cruel," Alan Mills of UPLC explains, and they amounted to "punishing someone for being homeless."

On Wednesday, circuit court judge Sidney Schenkier dismissed the suit. In a 27-page ruling, he wrote that the First Amendment claims didn't stick because the homeless people's tents and their act of camping didn't amount to expression. "We find unpersuasive plaintiffs' attempt to compare their conduct to sit-ins during the Civil Rights movement, and to overnight encampments that took place on public lands during the 'Occupy movement,'" Schenkier wrote, stressing that a homeless encampment lacks "a singularity expressive purpose to protest government policies."

Schenkier decided that the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment claims couldn't be brought because Uptown Tent City Organizers' lead plaintiff, Andy Thayer, isn't himself homeless. This leaves open the possibility of bringing these claims against the city again with a homeless person as a plaintiff.

Mills wouldn't say whether this would be UPLC's next move, but he noted that as the city continues to remove homeless encampments from various locations—including from Lower Wacker Drive just this week—"there are plenty of potential individual plaintiffs."

Schenkier also ruled that the Uptown Tent City Organizers are free to continue pursuing their challenge of the city's permit denial in state court. Mills said that resurrecting their case there would only take a motion and that the setback in federal court is "definitely not the end of the story."

In response to Schenkier's ruling, Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city's Law Department, issued a short statement: "We believe that this ruling is consistent with the law, and the City of Chicago remains committed to a compassionate and consistent approach to providing homeless services while respecting the rights of this vulnerable population.”

But Mills isn't buying this expression of concern for the homeless. "The city seems to believe that the answer to homelessness is to hide it rather than to house people," he says. "Where do they expect these folks to go? That's the fundamental question the city has never answered."

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lathrop launches lottery for affordable housing at revamped CHA complex

Posted By on 04.24.18 at 03:09 PM

For years, dozens of Lathrop's buildings stood nearly or entirely empty as the riverside neighborhood around them gentrified. - JASON REBLANDO
  • Jason Reblando
  • For years, dozens of Lathrop's buildings stood nearly or entirely empty as the riverside neighborhood around them gentrified.

A lottery for those who want to live in the newly revamped Lathrop on the north side is now open for nearly 100 affordable housing units set to be unveiled starting this summer.

Last week the development team behind the former Lathrop Homes—a 925-unit north-side Chicago Housing Authority project first opened in 1938—announced the drawing for waiting list spots for 91 one- , two- , or three-bedroom apartments. Those interested in the units, to be completed in the first phase of the redevelopment, have until June 1 to apply.

"We knew that the demand would be high for the affordable units here, and we wanted to make sure that the process and access to getting on the wait list was fair," says Sarah Wick, a senior associate with Related Midwest. The developer has partnered with Heartland Housing and Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation to form Lathrop Community Partners, the group remaking of one of Chicago's oldest public housing complexes into a mixed-income community.

The redeveloped Lathrop will ultimately have 1,116 apartments—494 leased at market rates, 400 public housing units, and 222 affordable units. "Each residence, regardless of the resident’s income, will contain identical features and finishes, all reflecting modern designs," Lathrop Community Partners promised in a press release. The first tenants are expected to move in this August.

Affordable housing units are intended for those making 80 percent of area median income or less. But there is also a floor to how little households can make to qualify. The federal government judges housing to be affordable if paying for it does not claim more than 30 percent of a family's income. According to information Lathrop Community Partners has posted online, the minimum household income required for one- , two- , and three-bedroom affordable units at the site are $28,560; $34,290; and $39,600 respectively. Rent prices are estimated to be $868; $1,040; and $1,199 respectively. The developer says the prices are approximate and no one will pay more than 30 percent of household income in rent for affordable units.

Already, more than 530 people have applied for the lottery, Wick says.  After the registration period closes on June 1, the list of applicants will be reviewed to exclude duplicate applications and any other errors, then sent to a third-party auditor who will create a randomized list of names in an Excel spreadsheet. LCP will begin approaching those applicants starting from the top to complete the necessary screening. In addition to income verification, LCP will conduct credit and criminal background checks. Those who don't sign up for the lottery by June 1 will still be able to register for the waiting list on a rolling basis, though their names will be added to the bottom of the list.

"We're gonna take as many names as possible. We're not going to close this off," Wick says.

All-new Lathrop apartments will include stainless steel appliances, quartz kitchen counter tops, and in-unit washers and dryers. - LATHROP COMMUNITY PARTNERS
  • Lathrop Community Partners
  • All-new Lathrop apartments will include stainless steel appliances, quartz kitchen counter tops, and in-unit washers and dryers.

LCP has a different process in place to draw tenants to the 151 public housing units that will be part of the first phase of redevelopment, which  includes six four-bedroom units available only to CHA tenants. First priority will be given to the 140 households who were still living at Lathrop when new construction began at the end of September 2017. After that, units will be offered to those CHA residents who have been displaced by the Plan for Transformation and have indicated that Lathrop would be their top housing choice. There are 121 such households, according to the CHA's last quarterly report—most, though not all, are from the original Lathrop community. Finally, units will become available for households on the CHA's public housing waiting list.

The first phase of the 34-acre redevelopment is concentrated on the north side of Diversey Avenue, where 16 historic buildings are in the process of being gutted and renovated. In addition to the residential buildings, the redeveloped Lathrop Homes will include 17 acres of open space with elaborate landscaping, kayak launches, a dog park, and new playground.  There will also be some commercial space in the main administration building.

Though the redevelopment of Lathrop will increase the overall density on the site, advocates have long bemoaned the net loss of public housing units in what is today a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood near jobs and amenities. At the start of the Plan for Transformation and until about 2006, the CHA had promised to fully rehab Lathrop as 100 percent public housing, something which was done at the Dearborn Homes on the south side and the Brooks Homes on the near west side. Negotiations over converting the property to mixed-income housing dragged on for a decade, with dozens of sometimes contentious meetings with community members, residents, affordable housing advocates, and the CHA. The master plan for the site has been overhauled several times due to concerns over proposed new building heights, historic preservation, and tenant selection plans. Ultimately, there will be 525 fewer public housing units on the site, though the CHA has entered into a court-monitored agreement to replace them elsewhere on the north side. The agency could not provide an update on how many, if any, of those units have been created so far.

To enter the lottery for the affordable housing waiting list at the new Lathrop and to find out more about the development, click here. Registration for the lottery will close at midnight June 1.

This story has been updated.

The Lathrop redevelopment will include a revamp of the riverfront with new recreational amenities like kayak launches and landscaping highlighting native flora. - LATHROP COMMUNITY PARTNERS
  • Lathrop Community Partners
  • The Lathrop redevelopment will include a revamp of the riverfront with new recreational amenities like kayak launches and landscaping highlighting native flora.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Aldermen's absolute veto power over ward projects gets unlikely court challenge

Posted By on 04.16.18 at 02:55 PM

A proposed 299-unit apartment building on the northwest side would include 30 affordable housing units. - COURTESY OF GLENSTAR
  • Courtesy of GlenStar
  • A proposed 299-unit apartment building on the northwest side would include 30 affordable housing units.

GlenStar, the luxury developer at odds with 41st Ward alderman Anthony Napolitano over a proposed 299-unit apartment building near the Cumberland Blue Line, has sued the city in an attempt to secure the necessary zoning changes to proceed with construction. But buried in its demands that a judge find city officials' actions regarding its proposed building unlawful is a major legal challenge to the age-old practice of "aldermanic prerogative."

This tradition, while not articulated anywhere in city code, has historically given aldermen veto power over developments in their ward. As the case of GlenStar's proposal has shown, when Napolitano decided he didn't want its apartment building in his ward, the City Council's zoning committee complied and didn't grant the developer a hearing or vote on its proposal.


In a complaint filed in Cook County circuit court on March 20, GlenStar lays out a series of events that matches those previously reported by the Reader:  Napolitano initially supported GlenStar's proposal, and it received approval from both the 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Council and the city's Department of Planning and Development. In June 2017, however, Napolitano "inexplicably" reversed course and withdrew his support, according to GlenStar. This happened shortly after controversy erupted over an affordable housing proposal in nearby Jefferson Park; Napolitano had publicly sided with those opposed to that building. GlenStar contends that Napolitano flip-flopped because its development would include affordable housing units too. (Napolitano has maintained that his opposition to GlenStar's proposal is on the basis of density, though in an e-mail to 45th Ward alderman John Arena previously obtained by the Reader, he actually defended the apartment building in question, saying the proposed location "is exactly where you'd expect to see density." Napolitano also claimed he wasn't aware of the affordable housing planned for GlenStar's building.)

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Here's what's next in the push to lift the ban on rent control in Illinois

Posted By on 03.28.18 at 04:57 PM

Landlords scramble to register their properties at the Chicago branch of Office of Price Administration, the federal body that oversaw nationwide price controls between 1941 and 1947. - SUN TIMES ARCHIVE
  • Sun Times archive
  • Landlords scramble to register their properties at the Chicago branch of Office of Price Administration, the federal body that oversaw nationwide price controls between 1941 and 1947.

If you're reading this and you're against rent control, don't worry: it's not coming to Chicago . . . yet. But last week thousands of Chicago voters agreed the state should repeal its ban on rent control in response to a nonbinding referendum on the primary ballot.

About 75 percent of the 16,000 voters in 77 precincts across the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, 12th, 22nd, 25th, 33rd, and 36th Wards that participated in the advisory ballot initiative voted in favor of it. They were asked either "Should the State of Illinois lift the ban on rent control to address rising rents, unjust evictions, and gentrification in our community?" or "To stop gentrification and rapidly increasing rents in Chicago, do you support the State of Illinois repealing the Rent Control Preemption Act?"

They're loaded questions, but that's how advisory referendums typically are: they make it onto the ballot due to petition signature collection by advocates seeking to change something.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Failed eviction attempts wouldn't haunt tenants under proposed state law

Posted By on 03.19.18 at 06:44 PM

Cook County sheriff's deputies perform an eviction in March 2018. - MAYA DUKMASOVA
  • Maya Dukmasova
  • Cook County sheriff's deputies perform an eviction in March 2018.
A new bill introduced by state representatives Emanuel Chris Welch, Theresa Mah, and Juliana Stratton would automatically seal eviction records filed in county courts. In cases ultimately decided in favor of the landlord, records would be unsealed and made available to the public after 30 days. If the law went into effect it would also mandate that all eviction cases be sealed after five years.

The bill is being rolled out in tandem with a new report from Housing Action Illinois and the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, which confirms the Reader's prior reporting on Cook County eviction data. After examining more than 105,000 Cook County eviction court cases that were filed and completed between 2014 and 2017, the report found that landlords win more than 60 percent of the time. It also found that more than 80 percent of landlords have attorneys in eviction court (while only about 12 percent of tenants do), and that a third of the filed cases are decided on a tenant's first court date.

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Cop celebrated for helping homeless veteran was leading opponent of veterans’ housing

Posted By on 03.19.18 at 06:00 AM

CPD  lieutenant John Garrido has been celebrated for helping formerly homeless veteran Anthony Johnson. - CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
  • Chicago Sun-Times
  • CPD lieutenant John Garrido has been celebrated for helping formerly homeless veteran Anthony Johnson.
Since November, local media have been running celebratory stories about Chicago Police Department lieutenant John Garrido's efforts to help Anthony Johnson, a homeless veteran. Garrido, who met Johnson at a dilapidated newspaper stand in Jefferson Park, launched an online fund-raiser that collected money to help him find a place to live and pay for a renovation to the shack. None of the television or newspaper reporters who covered the story, however, noted Garrido's involvement in a push against an affordable-housing development in Jefferson Park that would prioritize veterans. The site, at 5150 N. Northwest Highway, would be just steps away from the shack Johnson used to sleep and sell papers and across the street from the 16th District police station where Garrido works.

WGN 9 was the first to report the story after working on it "for a month." The segment describing Johnson's rough life and Garrido's intercession aired to the minor chords of an electric guitar. The police officer not only gathered friends to help fix up the newsstand but commissioned a local artist to outfit it with a mural depicting Johnson and scenes of the neighborhood. "I believe in John Garrido," artist Peter Bucks, said in the segment. "Usually when he's got something going on it's a good thing and it's for a good cause." Local car dealer Tony Marino was also acknowledged for buying the homeless man winter clothes to ease the hardship of working and sleeping in an unheated shack.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Low-income tenants say luxury developer is treating them like ‘bald-headed stepchildren’

Posted By on 02.21.18 at 04:11 PM

Canadian developer Onni Group changed long-approved redevelopment plans for Atrium Village, concentrating most affordable housing in one aging building. - BRIAN JACKSON/SUN-TIMES
  • Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
  • Canadian developer Onni Group changed long-approved redevelopment plans for Atrium Village, concentrating most affordable housing in one aging building.

When the redevelopment of Atrium Village, a Near North Side community squeezed between Cabrini-Green and the Gold Coast, was first announced in 2014, it seemed too good to be true: Onni Group, a Canadian real estate company was taking over the aging, 309-unit mixed-income development and building luxury skyscrapers on the site. But all the units of affordable housing were to be preserved in the new, 1,500-unit complex.

Now, nearly four years after Onni purchased Atrium Village from a consortium of churches that built it in the 1970s, tenants have filed suit with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They claim that the developer has not only backpedaled on its commitment to preserve the original affordable housing unit count on the site, but is acting with discriminatory intent by planning to concentrate most of the affordable units in one old Atrium Village midrise that won't be rehabbed or integrated into the rest of the complex. The tenants are also suing the city of Chicago for abetting this process.

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