Rosemoor residents say they are being pushed out of their homes
By Mark Brown October 11, 2013 8:42PM
Updated: November 14, 2013 6:48AM
Wesley Maxey and I have to stop meeting this way.
Maxey reminded me Friday we first came across each other seven years ago at an SRO hotel in the South Loop from which he and the other low-income residents were being chased off to make way for a new development.
“The New Ritz Hotel,” I had to remind Maxey, the name of the place not having made nearly as big an impression on him as the bite of the bed bugs.
This time we were standing outside the Rosemoor Hotel, 1622 W. Jackson, where Maxey was “transferred,” as he puts it, when the New Ritz closed.
Now, he and other long-time residents are facing eviction again as the new owner, luxury car dealer Joe Perillo, attempts to bring a new class of tenant to the Rosemoor.
Then as now, the push to create more upscale housing in the city is shoving out its less fortunate. And again it’s happening amid accusations of new building owners trampling the rights of old tenants.
“I’m five days from 70-years-old, and I didn’t think I’d have to go through all this again,” Maxey told me, fretting about where he and the 350 books he has hoarded will go next.
Thanks to the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing and West Side organizer Elce Redmond, Maxey doesn’t have to make a move quite yet.
Cook County Judge Kathleen Kennedy gave Rosemoor residents a temporary reprieve Oct. 3 when she ordered a halt to any evictions while she sorts out allegations that the building’s owner engaged in retaliatory tactics against residents.
Residents accused the owner of retaliating against them for forming a tenants union whose complaints resulted in city officials halting illegal construction work on the building.
On Thursday, the Illinois Appellate Court declined to hear the owners’ emergency appeal.
Aside from this unique legal strategy by the tenants, you’ve heard me tell this story again and again this year as developers work their way through the last of the old SROs on the city’s North Side — the Chateau, the Abbott, the Ambers, Sheffield House and Astor House. The poor are pushed from one to the next until their options are few.
In that regard, Maxey has actually been fortunate compared to others in his situation for having experienced seven years of relative stability.
Now, though, the SRO rehab action is back to the Near West Side again, where the Rosemoor, one of the last of the old Skid Row places, is being reborn as the Rosemoor Suites, complete with free high-speed Internet.
Instead of relying on the big sign outside welcoming “transients and permanents,” the new management is looking for young professionals on Craigslist.
It turns out young professionals and hard-luck cases have at least one thing in common — a preference for “affordable, flexible living in the heart of Chicago.” That translates to rooms available for rent by the day, week or month, plus no lease requirement.
Of course, what’s affordable to a young office worker new to the city is not going to be affordable to someone like Maxey supporting himself on $700 a month in SSI disability pay, or Cecil Stovall, a disabled railroad mechanic.
“They want people with higher paying jobs. Ain’t no secret about it,” Stovall said.
Then again, as Stovall points out: “A lot of these young people moving in, and the first bug bite, and they’re out of here.” He was referring to bed bug bites.
One day after the city filed suit against the building’s owners, tenants received notification of rents jumping to $850 from what had been an average of $500 a month. Later, another sign was posted raising all rents to $1,050 per month.
Residents tried to pay their rent at the previous levels, but management refused to accept it, said Victoria Ogunsanya, one of their lawyers.
Perillo was traveling Friday and unavailable for comment, but his lawyer, Arnold Landis, said, “the idea that there was some retaliation is completely not true.”
“It’s the landlord’s objective to improve the property legally, and they’re entitled to charge fair market rents for the property,” Landis said. “Our intention is to proceed with legal action under the law if [tenants] are not paying the rent.”
When this started in the spring, there were about 30 residents who joined the tenants union. About half of them have moved out, either taking buyouts or simply choosing to avoid the hassle.
If necessary, Maxey told me he can put his books in storage and sleep with the other homeless at Pacific Garden Mission, or “up under the bridge.”
Maybe, he could stay in a nice used BMW.