Thursday, September 6, 2012

Time Out Chicago: New Small Space Apartments In Uptown

Real-estate developer Jay Michael atop Wilson Tower (1325 W. Wilson) photo: Chris Strong
Time Out Chicago
Marissa Conrad

The hallways of Wilson Tower, a 12-story midrise at 1325 West Wilson Avenue, are dank and narrow. The stucco walls haven’t been repainted since the building was erected in 1931, and the carpets smell like mothballs. Down one hall, past an empty motorized wheelchair, an open door reveals an apartment that can’t be more than 300 square feet. A mattress rests on the floor, covered in trash and dollar-store trinkets.

A few doors down, another small unit sits unrented. A lone lightbulb hangs from the ceiling. Behind a stove with food-encrusted burners, layers of grease serve as a caked-on backsplash. A long cobweb stretches from the fridge to the countertop; the door to the cabinet under the sink sits ajar, its hinges almost unscrewed.

In a few months, a shiny electric range will replace the battered stove. The grease will be stripped, and subway tile put in its place. The unit will have a washer/dryer, a sleek new bathtub and light fixtures worthy of a home-design magazine.

The man behind the redesign is Jay Michael, a 31-year-old real-estate developer whose company, Cedar Street, is pioneering a new frontier of housing in Uptown and Edgewater. Michael, along with business partners and childhood best friends Alex Samoylovich and Tom Kim, is buying buildings no other developer wants—abandoned properties in severe disrepair; foreclosed SROs with low-income tenants—and converting these dilapidated spaces into luxury rentals, all of which will operate under a new branch of Cedar dubbed FLATS. Continue Reading


  1. This is incredibly good news and much needed in our community.

    It's not without risk, but risk takers earn the largest rewards typically.

  2. How exciting! These sound like perfect units for a growing market of hipsters, artists, and like the article states: college kids. I love the concept and hope Jay does well, no actually I hope he does extremely well and this keeps snowballing.

    Of course the stories of people losing their homes is sad, but with the condition the building is in, hopefully they will find better, cleaner, safer housing.

  3. Amen, although I don't have any faith in ONE, and it disturbs me that anything they recommend should be taken seriously. ONE has "guarded" the interests of the indigent so well that many of those buildings are being shutdown due to massive building code violations. The description of the Wilson Building in the article makes it sound like the Ritz Carlton compared to the way Lawrence House was. Nice job protecting underprivileged all those years, ONE.

  4. ONE seriously needs to just leave already...really hope they're just feeding those morons lip service.

  5. What a wonderful developer! I have always hated to see these beautiful old buildings so degraded.

    We may be arriving at a time when it is once again acceptable, even fashionable, to live "small", as people did before WW2. The buildings built in the 20s were almost always beautiful, with lovely ornamentation, no matter how small the units were.

    This is very good news.

  6. Although gentrification in Uptown is probably inevitable, given its desirable location, what bothers me is the charade that Michael and his colleagues are doing anything to help the current residents find alternative housing. That Ms. Kranz "meets with every tenant who’ll talk to her to try to develop a relocation plan" doesn't amount to much - there are plenty of social workers around the city who will meet with people who have a low income or disabilities that prevent them from working, but the hard truth is that these social workers have as much trouble as the residents in finding affordable housing: there just isn't enough to go around. As for working with Heartland Alliance, I can tell you first-hand that all of their housing programs are full and have very long waitlists. As for the comment about people needing mental health facilities rather than SRO's - I'd love to see Ald. Cappleman do anything to support the mental health movement in Chicago, rather than standing by as the city continues to slash mental health programs in Uptown and elsewhere.

    Every SRO and affordable housing unit that is sold to Jay Michael is another loss in Chicago's stock. Chicago's poor will continue to be pushed to the edges and segregated in ghettos of our own making. Or, more likely, they will continue to squat in the streets until they are arrested and relocated to our jails, as they have nowhere else to turn. Gentrification is not a solution to poverty - and I'm sorry to tell you, Mr. Michael, but if the trend continues in Uptown, I doubt many of the current owners and employees of your beloved Vietnamese restaurants will be able to afford to stay here.

  7. Maybe he can help renovate the Wilson Mens Hotel??

  8. Abi,

    how ya doin? I don't recall seeing you post here at UU. Welcome to UU.

    It's always nice to have another hipster glasses and flowered dress wearing know it all posting about what's best for humanity and the neighborhood. Plus you got that dog blog. I love it!

    Did I mention I love it? I LOVE IT!

    It's too bad you missed the bulk of the Shiller years here. She could have used another supporter. You remind me of a young woman who disrupted a community meeting on Wilson around 2004. She ranted about the need for more low income housing and how a new restaurant didn't have anything inexpensive on the menu and how that was "classist".

    She's probably married and divorced by this point and raising 2.5 kids with her parents help in Wilmette. Her ex husband likely is serving time in Club Fed for financial fraud.

    As for the owners and workers at our local Vietmanese restaurants I would be amazed if any are living in SRO type housing. Now they may be quadrupled up in other housing around Argyle, but the SRO housing ain't there thing. Generally, as soon as they're able to save a few bucks, they hightail it out to the burbs for better schools for their kids.

    Now perhaps if you stay in Uptown for awhile you can run for Alderman in 2015. ABI for ALDERMAN! If she can't do it no one can! Go Team Abi!

    Generally speaking the SRO type housing in Uptown sucks and is bad for the residents and the neighborhood. There are exceptions.

    Don't worry though. While the amount of SRO and non subsidized low income housing will inevitably decline in Uptown there will still be plenty of it here when you get your first grey hair. The CHA units ain't going anywhere anytime anyhow.

    Which is good because without the tenants and friends of tenants from the CHA what would UU report on? Restaurant openings? BORING.

    We need the occasional drive by shooting or gang murder to keep this the most involved neighborhood in Chicago.

    I believe Cappleman is getting married next week and while that is a good thing and newsworthy it just isn't as exciting as a shootout and standoff between police, feds and domestic terrorists from Indiana.

    Nope, Abi we need the diversity of housing you so support in Uptown and all the attendant attractions that come with it. Crime, death, mayhem, cats and dogs living together, real end of the world stuff!

    So here's to you Abi and I have one word for you "plastics".

  9. I worked with ONE back when I was more naive, they are really not on our side, guys. Saying anything more may get me in trouble, but trust me. Ezra, too, they are just two side of the same coins.

  10. That was actually pretty funny.

    I can’t tell if Abi’s post was a satirical joke or not but the fact is, Jay doesn't have to do anything for these people (legally). It's his and his company’s own good social stewardship to try and help, not solve everyone else’s problem for them. Abi, Do you think other developers in this city care as much? Do you think it’s one man or one company’s responsibility to solve social issues?

    Keep it up Cedar Street, you’re doing the right thing.

  11. Abi, why you have been hanging out in Paris and Cameroon between visits home to bucolic Nebraska (see, I was interested enough to peruse your blog!) some of us have been actually living in Uptown for decades, not months or a year or two. And we actually know what is going on , who the players are, and have an idea of where things have been and are going.

    ONE is frankly only worried about its own funding and staying in that groovy mansion headquarters of theirs on Kenmore. They have been horrible landlords and in my opinion, only worried about collecting more federal, state and local funds that the actual welfare of the residents. ALTHOUGH I do have to say, they certainly seem to have a LOT of money to spend on really brightly colored tshirts to hand out a few times a year. Perhaps that money could be better spent feeding or housing people? But I digress...

    Abi, when you have lived here for more than one election cycle, your sanctimonious opinions might hold water. But to have another uber-liberal out of towner come in an spout crap out of her mouth when she is truly clueless is insulting to the residents of Uptown. Particularly those of us that pay property taxes that, in turn, pay for all the social services.

    I wish nothing but the VERY BEST for Cedar Street and hope they accelerate and expand their holdings as quickly as possible!

  12. Abi chimed in with a calm, rational post, and succinctly stated an opinion that differed from the hive mind...

    GET HER!!!!!!!!!!!

    Or take a step back, and realize that IP has an imaginary friend he apparently wishes bad things upon, and the superhero who accused her of being sanctimonious has super-sanctimony powers.

    Sorry, Abi, live here longer, and you might be allowed to have an opinion, although for good measure, make sure it's the same opinion everyone else expresses.

    Andrew Smith: I don't think she was joking, since her post was of a serious nature, and in no way funny, but I question your excitement over very small units that would be perfect for creative types and college students. IMO, artists want lofts for a reason - big "spaces" let them have projects - these little life cubicles will not appeal to them. As for college kids, which nearby college will they attend, and have things changes so much that living far from campus, alone, in a confined space with your own kitchen and no contact with neighbors is what they want now?

    But those are concerns for the developer, I think he sees a market that doesn't exist, but a lot of people do that, and that is why they have more coin than I do.

    Sorry to sidestep the party line - I will try to behave:

    ummm, Schiller BAD! Unproven Developer GOOD! (unless its Sedgewick - BAD!)

  13. Superhero apparently you don't know where one hq's is at because it is not on kenmore and why would you be noisy and look at another persons blog,and just because you lived In uptown for decades dosent make you an expert. Have a nice day

  14. Anonymous,

    I'm unsure of where you're getting your imaginary friend crack. I mean I know where you get your crack, just not that crack. That meeting took place in 2004 on Wilson where Hull House? used to be. Across from Starbucks. Maybe 2005. The incident happened and she wasn't my friend. I recall evil condo owners mocking her attire and asking if she attended Northwestern.

    So thpppppt to you. It was a community meeting regarding the glorious Wilson Yard. I love the smell of TIF money in the morning. That tax money smell. It smells like nothing else. Smells like........ boondoggle.

    By the way I dont mndi some mispeling or gramatical mistakes, but you mispeled "Shiller" and "Sedgwick". Likely purposefully on the "Schiller" misspelling.

    As for Eric the parrot I suspect Mr Superhero conflated ONE with the Catholic Non Workers House on Kenmore. The "mansion" comment was likely sarcasm directed at how "well" they maintain their property.

    One more thang Sedgwick wanted TIF money for their proposed development. This developer doesn't. That explains a good deal of the differing community reaction.

    One more thang to my one more thang if Abi is going to link her blogs to her blogger profile people will look. That's not "noisy";although, it may be nosey. Dat's life on da net and dats da fact, Jack.

    By the way I suspect Abi is likely a lovely and kind individual. She likely works for a non profit and is trying to change the world for the better. I'm just old, jaded and realize that changing the world is a difficult task.

    As anonymous suggested, sort of, I am friendless and alone. Adrift in a dinghy of my own making on an endless sea of despair. Lost and forlorn in a world without hope. Wait, Shiller's gone and the sun just came out and I spy landfall. Saved!

  15. I hope this works out for Mr. Michael and for Uptown. However, I have my doubts. These units are very expensive for very tiny spaces! I lived in a studio that was approx. 425 square feet. It felt very small. I can't imagine many people wanting to live in a place considerably smaller than that. (I lived in another studio that was just over 500 sq. feet, and to me that felt like a good size.) Also, while the Cedar studios sound like they will be be nice inside, they are priced higher than what larger units are going for in Lakeview (albeit ones that are probably not quite as nice). I just don't see the demand for tiny studios in Uptown starting at over $700.

  16. @ Anonymous

    Duh, I realize Abi's comment was intended serious but it was so "left-wing agenda" oriented, I had to roll my eyes. Get over yourselves.

    You question my excitement about creative types and college students - How many young artists can afford the nice, big lofts? Most young, fresh artists have to rent space outside from where they live - I know, I'M A CREATIVE TYPE. And I've lived in Uptown since I started college six years ago. My roommates were all in college as well - the bigger schools like U of C, Northwestern, Loyola, IIT and UIC ( I had a lot of roommates) But couldn't afford Streeterville or liked living in a neighborhood with history, culture, where their friends also lived and the bars/clubs they liked. Did you also forget Truman College and the other small vocational schools like the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine a couple blocks away?

    I'm the demographic. I wrote this from my perspective. And as a creative type and someone who was in college a couple years ago I would rent a place like this for $700 a month - have you even looked at other rents lately?!

  17. "I can’t tell if Abi’s post was a satirical joke or not but the fact is..." "...I realize Abi's comment was intended serious but it was so "left-wing agenda" oriented, I had to roll my eyes."

    Duh, indeed. Perhaps someday you can see how you were less than clear, Andrew.

    Hopefully, there is a market for these units, but I remain skeptical that Truman students will fill them, or that 4 year students in Hyde Park or Evanston will flock to Uptown, rather than live near their own campus.

    IP, glad to hear that your real-life encounter 8 years ago doesn't entirely cloud your reality today. Perhaps with time, you won't even think of that person you met the one time, and envision her marital status, background, etc. There is always hope.

  18. Seriously though, if Cedar has to charge $700+ for SRO sized studios, they severely overpaid for these buildings. It's that tears shed for the closing crack dens but come on

  19. Anonymous said:

    IP, glad to hear that your real-life encounter 8 years ago doesn't entirely cloud your reality today. Perhaps with time, you won't even think of that person you met the one time, and envision her marital status, background, etc. There is always hope.

    September 9, 2012 5:24 PM

    You're right anonymous. She could be a lesbian. There is always hope.

    As for Cedar I suspect that there's a market among the post college crowd for that type of housing at that price point. From their marketing I'm guessing they're not only looking to rent the space, but also sell the lifestyle. If I were a 20sumtin looking to meet others similar 20sumtins and I didn't want roommates I might consider one of their buildings.

    Time will tell. I wish them luck. We certainly have enough buildings that need to be cleaned up and those folks tend to spend a great deal of time and money in whatever neighborhoods they live in.

    "Dude, Crew has a special on chicken wings 2day. Yeah, I know it's a gay sports bar, but it's chicken wings, BRAGH. Just eat and drink fast while watching the game. No, BRAGH, the wings won't turn you gay."

  20. Ok, I thought I'd re-share some info anyway.

    I now live in Rogers Park, but have business in Uptown, mostly due to Thresholds.

    A kid,a clean cut kid started begging HARD in my neighborhood. Nice clothes, nice shoes, clean shaven, no sweaty smell, not even the 5 hours in the sun kind of light sweaty odor.
    He graduated from hangout from the former Mickey D's express to standing in front of buildings like mine, preying on the recent immigrants who don't know what a poor American looks like.
    I told a girl at Ezra about it, she leaned back in her chair and then proceeded to lash out at me telling me that "everyone has the right to beg". They pretty much lost me, there. Besides, I was sick of doing marches for nothing but peanutbutter sandwiches and t-shirts.
    I had an appointment with a O.N.E. staff member that I didn't cancel that same week. She let me have it, with a weird, conceited smirk on her face when I told her of the crime I was trying to chase out of the neighborhood, including the incense guy (no permit), the water-selling guys( bought it with LINK), the guys walking in traffic.
    I soon quit helping them with things after that, quit writing for their poorly photocopied newsletter as well.
    Nobody has the right to beg. Nobody has the right to set up an unlicensed business and not pay taxes. Nobody has the right to stand in front of MY building and prey on the clueless.
    Both those organizations need to be run out of town with pitchforks and torches.