Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lawrence House Scaffolding Back Up, By Housing Court Order

Last Friday the Lawrence House case came up in Housing Court at the Daley Center.  It was a tense hearing, according to three people who were there who exchanged emails with UU.  One person was removed from the courtroom by a bailiff, and there were plenty of accusations flying.  We were glad to hear that Ald. Cappleman and Richard Thale attended as court advocates.

The judge ordered that the scaffolding be put back up to protect the building (which has already started), and we hope that there are strict measures being taken, such as better security, to keep away the drug dealing that accompanied the dark sidewalks under the scaffolding last time it was in place.  EZRA Multi-Cultural Center and O.N.E. are taking the lead on guiding this through the court system and tenants and former tenants were also in attendance.

One account from a person who was there (edited at the writer's request):

"The tenants association has dwindled since it first started; the building is so bad that people are just bailing out. The water pouring from the light socket on the first floor has spread, and now the library is usually unusable and sometimes the room in front of the library.

It was a lot of legalese, but basically the judge took note that the owners [restaurant and club owners Sam and Don Menetti] are doing the bare minimum to comply with the ever-increasing violations. Alderman Cappleman showed up and the Menettis' lawyer objected to his presence and tried to keep him from standing in front of the judge with the inspector, etc.

The fire alarms on several floors are so old that there are no longer parts being made for them, so they can't be repaired. The residents keep destroying the garbage chute springs and creating a fire hazard (if there were a fire, it could spread through the garbage chute system instead of being contained; those chutes would be open and flames could jump out).

The judge more or less lambasted them, it seemed to be because they keep stalling for time and making excuses. They were held in contempt on one charge (I didn't hear which) but the motion was stayed until the end of June, if I heard correctly.  $100 a day fine.  We were told the scaffolding was going back up.  The next court appearance is June 30th."

You can see the history of UU stories on Lawrence House here.  But the reality of Lawrence House's decline seems clearest in this article from the Tribune more than a year ago:

Both pastors have seen the building deteriorate since the Menettis bought it 10 years ago. They hear that apartments have become infested with roaches and rodents and bedbugs. The library where residents should be able to congregate smells like sewage and mildew, they say, with books warped by water that has seeped through the ceiling.

The makeup of residents has changed considerably in recent years. Those who have died or moved have been replaced with mentally ill clients placed by social service agencies that have contracts with the Menettis. The agencies include Heartland Alliance, Catholic Charities, Thresholds, and Community Counseling Centers of Chicago.

Building administrator David Quinn said many of the residents need more assistance than Lawrence House is capable of providing. As a result, neighbors suffer.


  1. That little excerpt paints a picture of deferred maintenance that is bad as I had imagined. Because of the chronic neglect and owners insistence on skimming easy money off the top without putting any back, rehabbing and operating this property at dignified standards is no longer profitable. Cleaning up severe infestations, structural deficiencies, mold/water damage etc are going to be massively expensive in a building this old. If the pressure is continued, the brothers will end up walking away or the place will be shut down. If I had to guess, I think something similar to Somerset, where the building is emptied, boarded up and hopefully rezoned, is the next chapter in this story.

    Props to Cappleman for being on the ball and involved.

  2. There are no "bailiffs" in Cook County courtrooms. They are Sheriff's Deputies.

  3. There're worse things. Need more patrol and citizen awareness. A sign could be posted by the building owners saying that area is being remotely monitored...would they be opposed to such a suggestion?

  4. the residents who buy the drugs are a significant problem to the surrounding 2-3 block area, regardless of whether it happens in front or outside. makes sense that mennettis have a contract with those agencies that deal with substance abusing individuals.

  5. As a social worker who had visited Somerset Place on many occasions, I believed it deserved to be shut down. However, where did some of the residents who lived there go? Lawrence House and SRO's in the neighborhood. My concern is that clients were moved to an even less structured placement where they have only a small chance of remaining compliant with treatment. This can cause a great deal of problems for the community.

    The State of IL is attempting to move many of the mentally ill out of long term care settings where they are currently able to remain stable to "community placements". The problem is that a great deal of "community placements" lack the structure these clients need. Most of them look just like Lawerence House or The Wilson Men's Club. Anyone have a thought on how that is that working out? Anyone notice problems with the clients who live in either of these placements?

    To keep clients who have serious mental illness and the neighbors in the community safe, qualified staff and a very structured environment is needed to manage their medication and provide a barrier to drugs and alcohol. But that costs money and the State of IL does not want to spend it on the mentally ill. So more and more mentally ill people are going to be moving into this type of motel. If it is closed another will open to take its spot. Then it will take the community 5 years to get that one into court.

  6. @UV

    "If it is closed another will open to take its spot. Then it will take the community 5 years to get that one into court."

    Like what was done with Somerset, the property can be rezoned to prevent another of similar use from taking its place. Uptown is lucky to have Cappleman on the zoning comittee and I expect him to be responsive to the community on such matters when they arise.

  7. Unfortunately places like Lawrence House and Wilson Men's, and other placements by my social service agency seem to be the norm, as well as their drop-in centers.
    I'm sure all my workers probably share your opinion Uptown Vegetarian, they seem helpless to improve the environments in these places. I can't imagine it's pleasant to see people running amok and out of control everyday. I'm working everyday to get away from this system because it's clear I do not belong in it. I'm about halfway out as it is. I now live in a building that has all "normal" people in it.