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Tenants turn up heat, but mayor’s pal ducks flames

Exteriors 6134-44 S. Kimbark buildings owned by Rev LeFinney jr. Monday January 6 2011. |  Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Exteriors of the 6134-44 S. Kimbark buildings owned by Rev Leon Finney jr. on Monday January 6 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Broken windows dot the facade, and drug paraphernalia litter hallways of this 30-unit courtyard building owned by The Woodlawn Organization — run by Mayor Daley’s close friend and ally, the Rev. Leon Finney.

Inside their apartments, tenants of 6134-44 S. Kimbark navigate cracked and peeling floors, walls and ceilings; scurrying rats and roaches; festering mold, and leaks coming from the roof, plastic-covered windows and sporadically functioning radiators.

On Thursday, these were the least of their problems, though.

For the past month, they have had little to no heat or hot water, as temperatures dipped.

That prompted the city to file an emergency motion in Cook County Circuit Court Thursday to appoint a heat receiver to repair the building’s heating system and ensure adequate heat and hot water for tenants.

But that did not happen, and tenants fear Finney’s group bamboozled the court, and charge that because of its political connections, TWO continues to get off easy.

“His people were out here [Wednesday] harassing us to sign an affidavit saying we now had heat and hot water,” said one tenant, hours after the court hearing where a TWO attorney asserted the boiler had been fixed. “They kept bugging me until I signed that lie.”

Calls to Finney at TWO were redirected to the church he pastors, Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, at 4100 S. King Dr. Messages left there were unreturned.

A tour of several apartments after the hearing found icy cold radiators and tenants using open, burning ovens and water boiling on stoves — dangerous fire hazards — for heat.

“As cold as it is outside, it’s even colder inside, even when TWO claims they’ve fixed the heat and it’s working,” said the vice president of the building’s tenant association, Mary Smith. “They’re trying to sell this property, so they don’t want to put any money into it.”

Thursday’s court action was only one more in the city’s stream of legal cases against Finney’s groups — which include the Woodlawn Community Development Corp., Woodlawn Development Association, and Southside Preservation Portfolio, LLC — for slum conditions at their South Side properties.

“Political connections have allowed him to get away with disinvesting in his buildings and leaving senior citizens and small children living in squalid conditions. At some point, it’s got to become embarrassing to the mayor that his friend is a slumlord,” charged Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle of Southside Together Organizing for Power, which organized a protest at the Chicago Plan Commission last year after Finney refused to meet with tenants.

TWO court cases and building code violations had continued to wrack up, and the “slumlord” accusation followed Finney, but he had remained a member of that Commission, appointed by Daley to help decide city development policy — an irony not lost on TWO’s ignored tenants.

Those tenants claim a victory in the wake of his quiet resignation from the Commission last month — announced the same day the city filed their latest court case for heat and hot water violations at the Kimbark building. So why wasn’t a receiver appointed?

A city inspector entered three units Thursday and said they were warm, city officials said, and TWO attorney Georgette Reynolds maintained in court the boiler had been fixed.

So instead, the city scheduled an inspection of the whole building Jan. 12, requesting a heating contractor’s proof of repairs by the next court date of Feb. 3rd.

“This building has been on the heat call for the last three years. I’m going to ask for a larger fine,” said city prosecutor Steve McKenzie. (TWO already owes several thousand in unpaid court fines, some of which the Circuit Court has sent to collections).

“What’s shocking here is that this is a Section 8, project-based, subsidized building,” McKenzie said. “These tenants can’t go anywhere. They must rely on the landlord to live up to his obligation to them and to the federal government, which pays ownership the rent for those units every month. With that kind of income, this building should not be here.”

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