Saturday, February 2, 2008

'Malden Arms' SRO To Appeal Zoning Decision

On the same day that the zoning hearing for "Labor Ready" will be taking place, another potential zoning change will again be debated. Mercy Housing Lakefront's "Malden Arms" is once again attempting to rezone their 86 unit SRO into 77 single family units and 6 "dwelling units." According to the current ordinance, parking is required for each new dwelling unit created, and that is why this was denied the first time. We seem to remember the reason the "Carmen Manor" property was not converted to condos, was lack of parking. It will be interesting to see if someone pulls strings to get this zoning variance passed. Could be an interesting day of zoning hearings for our neighborhood.


  1. So, Shiller is on record opposing any parking variances that will allow any vintage buildings to convert to market rate housing (condos or rental).

    However, she supports parking variances for vintage Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) hotels that simply change their operations to squeeze families into tiny units that measure only 180 square feet (13 x 14 feet) in size.

    Now that's really caring about the poor, Helen.

    And, why does the city fund this type of transitional housing here when the $450 monthly rent required to house these families on the Lakefront can buy so much more space in other neighborhoods?

  2. How on earth will a family fit into a 180 foot unit? Anonymous_5:05, you're absolutely right, why are these people being shoehorned (quite literally) into units in Uptown when there's so much more of the city where $450 will pay for much more room.

    Here are more specs from Malden Arms' website about the units. Sounds family-like, right?


    Private 5 x 5 foot baths (6 shared)
    Kitchenettes with apartment-sized refrigerators (15 cubic feet) and 1/2 the units feature ranges with ovens
    Compact fluorescent lighting
    Handicap-accessible units have private baths and are double in size


    Units have private bathrooms with tub and shower
    7-1/2 foot kitchenette with 21" range and 15 cubic foot refrigerator
    4 x 2 foot closet

  3. BTW, as has been pointed out in the past, Helen uses the zoning law restrictions as an excuse to not approve market rate vintage building rehabs.

    However, she frequently misquotes the law and says the laws prevent her from approving anythng other than SRO or low income housing for older building without parking. But, so long as the vintage property is a 1-to-1 conversion and does not add units it does not have to add parking. It is mainly new market rate construction or property adding units that must add parking.

  4. Mercy Homes probably wants to add housing for homeless couples.

    Have they already upzoned their Major Jenkins and Delmar properties located in the 5000 block of Winthrop in Mary Ann Smith's 48th Ward? Those SRO building are already housing couples in single room units.

  5. Are people being forced to live in these little units? If the development thinks people want to freely rent these units, let them.

    Seems to me a fair rule for parking with zoning change would be, as long as the number of units does not increase it can change without adding parking.

  6. Part of being a community means there are limitations on maximizing ones own self interest at the detriment of those around you. That is why zoning laws exist. Zoning laws are all about incompatible uses. No one would care if this was happening out in the desert where no one else is impacted. Here its happening in a densely populated neighborhood with serious parking and traffic congestions issues.

    Mercy Homes is probably doing this because the subsidized rent that they can charge is based on income of the tenants that CHA wants to place in those units. More tenants per unit = more rent per unit = more Mercy home profit per unit. It already takes some singles 3 years on the CHA waiting list to get into these units so it's not like Mercy Homes can't fill these units with singles.

    It always seems fair to the guy breaking the zoning laws that he should do whatever he wants to maximize his own situation or (Mercy home profit) However, that's not the way it works. If you think about it, two income producing individuals crammed into a tiny unit can probably afford a car. 86 of those tiny units crammed into an SRO building with many people owning cars can quickly cause the same parking nightmare on a block as a 15 story highrise with 86 2-bedroom apartments built with no parking garage.

    Mercy Home is already gets a break because it operates each building with a full on-site staff of management, personal counselors for each tenant, and visiting mental and medical health personal. All those people, along with on site maintenance staff already park on the street using parking waivers. How much fricking more do they expect from one block? Everything?

    Mercy Homes is simply being held to the same rule as all other buildings that allow multiple tenants in their units. Mercy Homes is only running into this zoning issue because they are trying to run a Single Resident Occupany building with multiple people in their single resident units.


  7. What reduction in occupancy would be acceptable? I assume if they were turning this whole building into a giant single family dwelling it would be OK that there is not parking.

    What is the line in the middle that is acceptable? What should be the unbiased standard for the zoning committee to apply?

  8. Jacob, the only thing anyone of us can say at this time about what is acceptable is to say whatever the current zoning allows. Anything else is just one person's opinion. I haven't polled the nearby neighbors, but they should have some unbiased expert opinion available to them about what impacts are possible given the current request and that just hasn't been done. Given that the Zoning Board is routinely ignored, and given that no one really knows the expertise of those on the Zoning Board (their qualifications are not listed on the city's website), it's all just everyone's guess. No wonder city planning is in such a sad state of affairs.

  9. Essau said "what is acceptable is to say whatever the current zoning allows...[the community] should have some unbiased expert opinion available to them about what impacts are possible."

    These are excellent points. The zoning ordinances were established with the expertise of city planners. Zoning changes and variances should only be given after full consideration of the pros/cons, and various impact studies. We always have to balance competing interests when there is a pending zoning change, but the default position should be to not change the code...not just go with who the Alderman is willing to support.

    When you get right down to it, local residents are not being considered in local concerns. Sometimes you won't get what you want, but there should be a clear and public process to determine the outcome. Mayor Daley says that Aldermen should decide what should be in their wards. Check out the Tribune story.

    Is this what Democracy is all about? Alderman should weigh in...and their stance should really count...but not to the exclusion of everyone and everything else.

    Make your voice heard. Come to the hearing!

  10. Essau and 'info' is the following an accurate summary of your views?

    No variances should be giving. Only changes to the zoning law. When there are changes to the zoning law it should be done by experts, but should also include input from the community and Aldermen.

  11. No. Variances are needed from time to time. Mostly, this is due to the fact that the community wants to/needs to use the space differently than had had been originally intended. Cities grow and change and this should be expected. You can't "master plan" everything in perpetuity.

    The point is that it is the alderman's role to be a voice for how the community is using the space (or wants to use the space). They are the guardians of the public interest and it is their responsibility to make sure that changes are made under conditions of open dialogue and with as many facts as possible. All this backroom dealing business is irresponsible and hurts everyone in the long run because people tend to keep score instead of engaging with the issues.

  12., I agree. There's nothing wrong with a zoning variance, but zoning variances should be an exception to the rule and the community needs unbiased information so that their input can be informed.

    At this point in this ward, residents are not given unbiased information to assist them with decision making, their input is not sought, their input is ignored, they are most often never informed of the zoning variance in the first place, and zoning variances are routinely granted with no reason offered.

  13. What information are you looking for? The previous comments come off as opposed to this change no matter what. What information would you need to support it?

    As the city has a republican form of government, wasn't the communities views sought in the last election? Shouldn't this be a matter in which we can trust our representatives. If we cannot ever trust them, why not have direct democracy?

    Do you think it is possible you are the vocal minority and the majority of our neighbors either want this change, do not care, or trust the market?

  14. Jacob,

    Just to be clear: STOP LABOR READY is interested in keeping a billion dollar multinational day labor placement firm off of its proposed location on Sheridan Road and preferably out of Uptown altogether. The actual wording of the zoning variance is that the applicant must demonstrate that the proposed change "is in the interest of the public convenience" and "will not adversely effect the surrounding neighborhood."

    In our case, Shiller is aligning with the $$ MNC to claim that the public's interest is in having a place for people to get placed in day labor jobs. We are not the vocal minority because no area businesses or non-profits will come out as supporting it and every study conducted by advocates for the homeless, the unemployed, recent immigrants, etc., indicates that day laboring is a path to nowhere. Without additional supports, day labor does not cultivate the skill sets or job histories that these workers need in order to land jobs that pay a living wage. Plus, the fact that the location is right on the boarder of Smith's ward means that all our plans for a pedestrian school campus will be ruined.

    There is already a job center (run by the City) less than a block south on Sheridan. If people aren't getting what they need there, the solution is to engender public support to address the issue---not put a quick fix a block away in a political move that disenfranchises the surrounding community. We didn't vote for Shiller because we can't.


    Just to be clear, this post is not about Labor Ready.

  16. No, but it's very much related. It's all about informing the residents living in the ward of zoning matters that directly affect them. It's all about giving residents the information they need so that they can maken an informed decision.

    At this point, we can't even get Shiller to notify us when a zoning change is requested, which is required but routinely ignored because all Shiller has to do is lie and say that she gave notice. Reality be damned.

  17. Hey Jacob, a guy and his dog have been living in a van parked by my house next to the park for the past two months. He's perfectly happy living there in his no toilet, no running water, no heat, 8x6 foot space.

    The police and I have ignored him thus far. Should the police and I ignore him to the point where he or the dog might die in this weather, if that is what makes him happy? Does the community have a role to play in his decision, other than hauling away the body?

    BTW, this is not a hypothetical question.

    Would you give him a zoning variance to live there? Where do you draw the line between his maximizing his happiness and community interests?

  18. Yes, Jacob. This post is not about Labor Ready. However, as Essau noted, the issues are related because the abuses are systematic.

    This community is being so damaged by the lack of constructive discussion.

  19. I am still not sure I know what information "the community" wants concerning Malden Arms. If the law requires notice to be given sooner than it is being given then, it should be remembered and shouted from the roof tops at the next election. I will not argue about that.

    However, we know this change will be coming up. What else do you want to know about this request in order to form a more informed opinion?

  20. As to people living in cars with dogs, why do you want them out of the neighborhood so badly? Is it better for us to force them to be (and possibly die) somewhere else? Somewhere they do not want to be?

    If you are truly concerned about the health of this man, the state is the least effective way to effect change. You could offer him refuge in your home. Rent a hotel room for him. Invest in low rent housing.

    Making it against the law to live on the street or in a car does not suddenly make it so that people do not. However, trying to limit the number of residential units in our neighborhood does restrict suppliers ability to meet the demand.

  21. Not trying to provoke anyone here but...

    Do the groups that focus on the homeless, etc., look at other places in the city that have more affordable land/units in order to open up service centers? There are so few resources on the south side. It is a fact that we have dense services here. De Paul had to relocate some of their services out of Lincoln Park when their client base was no longer there. I am not saying that it is good to dislocate/relocate the poor but Uptown is not an island. There are economic forces surrounding it that make it increasingly difficult to keep (or offer more) affordable housing in the area. Whatever you say about the condo dwellers and people who are able to afford the higher rents---many of them are here because this is where the affordable housing is for THEM.

  22. "If you are truly concerned about the health of this man, the state is the least effective way to effect change. You could offer him refuge in your home. Rent a hotel room for him. Invest in low rent housing." - Jacob

    So Jacob, does this mean that you're willing to take in some homeless people into your home? Could I have your address, please? I know some homeless people who would like to meet with you.

  23. Jacob, I'm just questioning how low you will go with your standards. I remember 20 years ago when I lived here hearing these same arguments. Only then, they were about Howard Slater's building in that same area and people argued that the city was being mean for enforcing housing codes on his building when it lacked running water, the toilets wouldn't work, and the ceilings were caving in. I recall protests in the streets defending slum housing. It seems no matter what one does to try to get decent housing into this neighborhood people complain that its not cheap enough because they are willing to live in total squalor even when the city will not let them.

  24. So back to zoning. Is my reading of the zoning code correct? I am seeing that this building requires parking under the new zoning code special rules for SRO's found at Ordinance 17-10-207B. That requires 1 parking space for 10 units.

  25. So Howard Slater is a long-time slum landlord in Uptown? What buildings does he own? Are you having problems with one of his buildings?

  26. Miss Polyanna,

    No I am not willing to take these people in, but I do make efforts to provide charity.

    However, I can never support forcing some people (tax payers) to pay to force other people from where they choose to live.


    My standard is very clear.

    No Force.

    If the tenant and landlord freely agree to a lease, why should we force them to no be allowed to make a free contract? If you think their houses are unsafe, you are also free to educate the tenants. Even better would be for you to invest in what you consider safer housing that will be rented at the same price as the slums, if you think that is possible.

    If you want to support more and more zoning laws, just remember that will necessarily be a negative force on the supply of housing.

    I recommend The Road to Serfdom, as a reminder that one cannot possibly know and plan all the various needs of man. Not even in our small community; not even in just one industry. It is moral and more efficient to let everyone freely make what is the best choice for themselves without imposing a cost on others.

  27. Jacob,
    You're the one that threw out the suggestion of taking people in or renting the homeless person a motel room. If you're going to make such suggestions, then you should be following them, unless of course you're comfortable with being a hypocrite.

    It sounds like you don't care about zoning guidelines because it gets in the way things. Man, you have to be quite frustrated living in Chicago. You don't think Chicago will be throwing out its zoning laws anytime soon, do you?

  28. I can provide lots of suggestive solutions for things I don't see as problems. I don't find that hypocritical. What is the false appearance I am putting on?

    You're right, I don't see Chicago's zoning laws going away soon. Does that mean I should resign and let statist planners take over? Rome was not built in a day. (I also don't think they had zoning laws. :) )

  29. "I can provide lots of suggestive solutions for things I don't see as problems. I don't find that hypocritical. What is the false appearance I am putting on? Jacob

    We're suppose to trust your suggestion for something that you don't view as a problem? Do you see something wrong with this picture?

    No one mentioned the need to give statist planners absolute control over development. That's the whole point of this entire thread. Right now we do have one person with complete control and this particular person whose name is Helen Shiller will not let residents and block clubs have any voice on zoning decisions. It got her in trouble with Labor Ready and it's getting her trouble here. She is your statist planner that you should be worrying about. It's the problem with many other aldermen as well. The Trib has had many articles on it. Have you read any of them? Is this news to you?

  30. Jacob, open mouth, insert foot.

  31. There are points of agreement here.

    The poor want low income housing and the neighbors want that low income housing to be of sound quality and management with adequate space and parking. No one is really happy with what has passed for CHA and SRO housing here in the past.

  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. For the most current information regarding the rehabilitation of the Malden Arms Apartments, please paste this address into your browser:

    For information about Mercy Housing Lakefront please visit our website at:

  34. It sure would have been the neighborly thing to do to contact Magnolia-Malden Neighbors Block Club, which by the way at one time had yearly block club events where residents from Mercy Housing got free food, and give them a little information about this change in zoning you requested.

    As you can probably gather from reading other comments, we sometimes get frustrated when things get passed and there's been no input sought by any of the residents (your neighbors). We're simply asking you to be a good neighbor, to do what good neighbors do. It's really not a lot.

    When you say little and when you have little involvement in the community, and when you don't attend CAPS, it gets upsetting. We're just asking that you be polite and considerate and we'll try to do the same. That's all. No more, no less. Just be good neighbors.