Thursday, February 26, 2009

SRO Fires: Just A Matter Of When

Jack Gore owns several SRO's (single room occupancies) in Chicago including the "Hotel Chateau" at Sheridan and Broadway. Residents in Lakeview are concerned his "Diplomat Hotel" is not safe and a fire hazard. City officials say it's just a matter of time before another SRO burns. Read the story here from ABC 7's I-Team, and be sure to check out the video above the story.


  1. This is what I just wrote to the ABC General Manager on

    WAY 2 GO!!!! Keep the neighborhood of the CITY of CHICAGO stories coming. Report on what’s going on in CHICAGO. Last nights story on the potential fire at the low income hotel was right on! ABC 7 news has felt like a continuation of world news lately. I will continue watching your station if you continue to report on what matters to people who live in the city. Now we want the truth about Ald. Shiller and her corrupt dealings with Wilson Yard told. She has her fans of gang members, homeless and low income families. Then she has the rest of people who pay taxes who want her out. She has created such division in Uptown. Report on that. What about the Uptown Theatre? Still not be renovated or used. Mary Ann Smith is the Alderman. What is she doing about this unfortunate set of circumstances? What about Dominick’s on Foster and LSD? They just bought the hotel where there was just a shooting. Did you report on that? What’s going to happen with the land that was bought? These are stories that should be reported on. There are tons in Chicago… everyday. Local Chicago News. That is what people who live in the City of Chicago want to see.

  2. This report illustrates why more projects like Wilson Yard are needed. Too many of the housing choices available to low income people are fire traps like the SRO's mentioned here. New, well built, quality housing needs to be constructed so low income individuals aren't forced to reside in roach infested fire traps.

  3. Sean, you are totally correct in that the disappearance of SROs from Chicago is a big problem. However, I don't agree that Wilson Yard in its current incarnation is the answer. It is possible to be pro-affordable housing and pro-SROs and against Wilson Yard. We can do better.

  4. Well Sassy, if not Wilson Yard, then what do you suggest? I believe the need for new construction geared towards people living in poverty is needed. Most of the low income housing still available in Uptown is very much like the Diplomat. Not sure what you have against WY, but what do you suggest as an alternative?

  5. MIXED income. The operative word is MIXED. Again, as many of us say, affordable housing is needed but in a setting that fosters a strong community and does not add to problems the neighborhood already has.

  6. Stay Away from the Chateau Hotel!”
    Chateau Hotel
    Save Review
    1 of 5 stars
    A TripAdvisor Member
    Chicago, Illinois
    Aug 6, 2005
    28/29 found this review helpful

    Since being displaced, I've lived at the hotel for a few months. Every since I got here there has been nothing but problems. This place is bed bug central, with bites all over you. There are many prosititutes in and out of the building. Most of the people who stay here are either stone cold alcoholics or dope users. This Hotel is also unsitely because they have the aforementioned people loitering in front of the hotel. Management is either trying to pick up any woman who walks in the door or out for a quick payoff. I know the residents in this Lakeview neighborhood want this place shut down and they're absolutely right. This place is highly unsanitary and unsafe for long periods of occpancy. Since staying at this hotel I've witnessed:

    1. Prostitution, any time of the day or night (on the second/third floors).
    2. Power outtages for hours on end.
    3. Wires in the circuit breakers popping and sizzling.
    4. Mass Roaches and Bed Bugs (which are widespread throughout the bldg.)
    5. Mucus all over the elevator doors, walls, and floor.
    6. Hearing and seeing Domestic Violence.
    7. People smoking crack in the back of the building.
    8. Drunks threatening to slice one another's throat, etc..
    9. Plugged up sinks for weeks.
    10. One mattress after another with various stains: blood, hair, etc.
    11. Out of order washing machines.
    12. Seeing people with large sores from bed bugs all over their bodies.
    13. Watching tenants hang out and drug deal within the building and also between the Carlos Hotel and Chateau.
    14. Seeing tenants beg for change in front of starbucks, either because they're greedy or want someone to pay for their drug habit.
    and the list goes on..........

    * My ratings for this hotel are:
    o 1 of 5 stars Value
    o 1 of 5 stars Rooms
    o 1 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    o 1 of 5 stars Service

    * Date of Stay: April 2005
    * Member since: August 06, 2005

  7. Nice that the Alderman did not rush to the court hearing and tell the city attorneys that they were "Being unfair" to the SRO by holding them accountable for court orders to fix up the place. When this happens in the 46th good old Helen is seems to be more concerned with keeping the SRO open, rather than discussing the safety concerns of the tenets and the neighbors.

  8. Hi, Sean. Sorry I am checking back so late. I think your question, "what do you suggest" deserves an answer so here goes...

    I suggest new well-run SROs across Chicagoland. There are so many neighborhoods that have no shelters and no rooms available. When you run out of relatives and friends' places to crash, there are few alternatives. Second, I think that more city money needs to be freed up for the 'plan for transformation.' So much is locked up in TIFs even though general revenues are not meeting (inflated) expectations. Clouted deals cost the city millions of dollars each year. This fraud and waste needs to be redirected to the schools and to improving our infrastructure needs, which includes housing initiatives & better alternatives than we have now.

    However, since you asked the question, my guess is that you know this already and probably agree. So here's my comment on the WY part. What Helen Shiller is doing is understandable given the situation. When you haven't had success reforming Chicago and kicking loose more dollars from Washington, you do what is in your "realm of concern and realm of influence." What I object to is that there has been NO acknowledgment that WY is already a compromise. Proponents have seen it necessary to paint the whole affair as "the public good" vs. "ignorant & greedy self-interest" in order to gain public support for the dubious placement and payment of this capital project. WY is going into a high % poverty census tract, which is typical for Chicago. Very little of the so-called "scattered site" housing is going into wealthier neighborhoods with robust commerce and high-achieving schools. As for how it is being financed, I need not repeat why TIF funds are inappropriate for the project as it is being run right now. Waste aside, if the project were both mixed-use and mixed-income, a stronger case could be made for using TIF funds. The point of TIFs is to increase the tax base. When you spend money on non-profits or capital improvements that don't generate sufficient tax revenue, you come up short. You just spend money rather than doing something that is likely to compound your investment.

    I would love to live in a world where investments didn't have dollar values attached to them but instead were calculated by how many lives were changed, how many mouths were fed, how many children slept in a warm bed each night. But the TIF statutes still do have some requirements in them and the is not the correct way to go about financing this endeavor. I think it would go along way if the proponents would just be honest and admit it!! Of course, they can't because then where would the money for something like it come from? Nowhere because the city has a deficit and so far HUD hasn't come up with the right combo of money and political story to reinvent the affordable housing movement.

    Wilson Yard is such a difficult subject for me because I readily acknowledge that more affordable housing solutions need to be created. I also understand how some people (Shiller) are willing to abandon the notion that a project of this nature could ever be done perfectly. So they just do it. I, on the other hand, am truly concerned about how that willfulness is reverberating through the community and what long-term consequences it will have. I also am critical that the path we are on will do nothing to engender the creative solutions we really need to fix the market-bias of our national housing "policy."

    But, hey, what do I know. I'm just an evil-doer property owner who thought they'd like to be the change they wanted to see in the world. Seems the powers-that-be already have it all covered and don't need any comments from the peanut gallery. Who knew? Certainly not me.


  9. SRO housing needs to be safe and this housing hasn’t been safe for a long time. The 48th Ward is starting to stand up and demand that any housing receiving Low Income Housing Trust Fund dollars meet standards of safety, cleanliness, and be in good working order. That really means a call for enforcing the standards that were already in place long ago. Obviously, the system has failed, causing misery for the renters and the surrounding community.

    I agree with Sassy that more SRO housing in the city is needed. I’d like to see more incentives to have this type of housing placed in neighborhoods with poverty rates below 25%. Any real housing advocate understands that no one benefits when subsidized housing is placed in areas with already high rates of poverty, thus HUD’s guidelines for the building of such housing. For now, we need to insist that this housing be managed well for everyone’s sake.

    When I worked on a project to help apartment managers come together to share best practices in the management of their buildings, I was accused of being a racist by some of the very same people who are demanding to have more low-income housing built in this ward. To those people who have a need to call their neighbor a racist, I would encourage them to work with their neighbors and demand better management of the low-income housing already among us. It would be a start.

  10. There are some good SRO operators who understand that in order to protect the quality of your housing for everyone, you must screen tenants and ensure that all rules and regulations are followed. No one is done a favor if case managers throw people who are not able to live independently or are able to emotionally be a non-disruptive neighbor to fellow tenants into the first SRO where they can pick up a housing fee. Appropriate care facilities should be expanded, because I could think of little worse than having a mentally ill person placed in one of the buildings described in t his story and any agencies doing so should be ashamed. Well run SRO programs also provide self empowerment programs and tend to try to promote longer tenancy than days which creates a more stable building and neighborhood.

    To the extent any of these buildings received any money from the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust or from any other governmental program, the money needs to be repaid so this community can address its housing needs. Every avenue to return money paid for housing that was uninhabitable or unusable due to management neglect or due to a condition which was under control of such landlords should be fairly but aggressively pursued. We don't have enough money to even come close to addressing our housing needs as it is.

    Housing court doesn't have enough weapons to go after anyone it seems and there are a lack of the appropriate penalties which are available in almost every other US jurisdiction. The appropriate penalty in many other jurisdictions is to place the landlord in the county jail for how ever many days it takes his building to be compliant. From my observation, building problems get fixed much faster that way and this needs to be a weapon in the arsenal of the housing court judges.

    Affordable housing needs to be in diverse parts of the city. Wilson Yards is desperately needed but the site chosen is one of the worst I could possibly come up with. The benefit and burden of being host to our poorer brothers and sisters should be borne and enjoyed by everyone. If you want to prevent gentrification, why can't we ensure that "buy outs" from developers so they don't have to provide low income housing stay in the ward in which they were generated? Assuming the large portion of the Wilson Yards housing came from "buy out" developments in Lincoln Park, Old Town, etc., placing Wilson Yards there would promote stability there instead of encouraging rapid fluctuations in real estate prices and increasing pressure on the ability of the poor to stay in their current homes. We would also prevent an over-concentration of poor in areas, like Uptown, where resources are stretched too thin to manage current obligations.