CHICAGO — With the recently announced sale and pending closure of the Wilson Men's Club Hotel, 1124 W. Wilson, Chicago's Uptown neighborhood is about to be hit with a devastating attack on its remaining low income housing stock, hitting its most vulnerable residents, according to activists.
Uptown Tent City Organizers ( UTCO ) said recent history shows that such closures lead to surges in homelessness.
"The City's own homelessness count for 2016, derided by many as a severe undercount, nonetheless showed a 9.4% surge in Uptown's homeless population over just the previous year," said UTCO spokesman Ryne Poelker. "This followed the destruction of more than 2,000 units of SRO housing on the North Side, including the Norman Hotel, the Lawrence Hotel, the Hazelton Hotel, and the Hotel Chateau, in James Cappleman's [46th] ward since he became alderman in 2011."
The dwindling supply of SRO housing places even greater market pressure to increase rents for all moderately priced housing in a city where nearly half of Chicagoans are already "rent-burdened." Rent-burdened is defined as spending 30% or more of one's income on housing, according to a March 2017 Heartland Alliance Study. The same study notes that "nearly half of Chicagoans are considered low income or living in poverty" and that this correlates to the city's notorious violence problems.
A recent press release from City Pads, the new owner of the Wilson Men's Club Hotel, boasted that the firm "is thrilled to offer modern, quality and affordable housing options for residents in the Uptown community" by having "at least 20% of the new units … [as] affordable housing."
"What Uptown Update ignored is that most people on SSI get so little income that they can't afford what's defined by local ordinance as 'affordable housing,'" said UTCO's Andy Thayer, an Uptown resident for more than 30 years. "Even if they could, 200 truly affordable units are about to be replaced by only 80 mostly market rate units, of which of only 16 would meet the city's dubious definition of 'affordable.' So City Pads, previously responsible for the destruction of the Hazelton SRO on Montrose Avenue, will now preside over the net destruction of another 184 affordable units and yet gush on about offering 'quality and affordable housing options,' giving a whole twist on the term 'fake news.'"
UTOC said at least two non-profit organizations dedicated to maintaining the Wilson Men's Club Hotel reportedly were prepared to meet the asking price of the previous Wilson Men's Club Hotel owner, but never sealed the deal. Under the City's "Single-Room Occupancy and Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance," owners of SROs wishing to sell their properties are required to first take a six-month period and attempt to sell to an entity dedicated to preserving the SRO. Only after that are they permitted to sell to market rate redevelopers.
If indeed there were genuine offers to buy Wilson Men's Club Hotel during the six-month period, and yet the seller waited them out to sell to buyer who wanted to destroy the institution, this would appear to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the City's SRO preservation ordinance.