EDGEWATER — Activists invited a Chicago real estate mogul with big plans for the North Side to an Edgewater church to discuss affordable housing in his developments — but he skipped the meeting.
So they brought it to his Gold Coast home.
About 50-60 people made the trek Thursday night to the home of Jay Michael, a partner at FLATS Chicago, which has purchased seven buildings in Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park with the intention of remodeling them and rebranding them as upscale apartments.
"This neighborhood of ours has room for all," the protesters sang. "This little neighborhood of ours we aren't going to let it fall."
Social justice group Organization of the Northeast had invited Michael to a meeting at North Shore Baptist Church to hear its demands that he commit to setting aside 20 percent of all units for affordable housing.
Affordable housing proponents at the meeting accused FLATS of hurting economic and ethnic diversity in the neighborhood and said more than 1,200 units that had been affordable would be lost.
More than 100 people attended the meeting.
But not Michael.
And the lone FLATS representative sent to speak with the group was apparently not good enough for activists. ONE co-chair Mini Reddy posed questions to FLATS representative Sherri Kranz.
“Sherri, do you speak with the full authority and backing of FLATS?” Reddy asked.
“I’ve come to speak on behalf of FLATS, yes,” Kranz answered. “I have their full backing and authority.”
“Thank you,” Reddy said. “And are you willing to make commitments on behalf of FLATS Chicago?”
Kranz replied that she had come to represent FLATS and would be making a statement and addressing concerns. Reddy asked her question several more times, pushing for a yes or no answer.
Kranz finally said no, that it was beyond her power to make any commitments. That was the deal-breaker.
“Well thank you Sherri," Reddy said. "We had actually hoped to talk to someone who is willing and able to make commitments on behalf of FLATS, that’s the reason why we all gathered here, and we really appreciate that you came out here. However, at this point, I don’t think we have anything further to discuss.”
Kranz, understanding that she would not be allowed to speak, stood, gathered her things and went to the back of the room.
ONE staff then asked her to move out into the hallway, where a visibly enraged Kranz complained about not being allowed to speak and not being allowed back inside the meeting.
“You’re denying me access to the meeting?" Kranz asked. “You’re making statements behind the back of FLATS Chicago and not allowing me to hear what’s being said? Is that what you’re saying?”
Within a few minutes, about 60 people left the room and boarded two school buses headed for Michael's Gold Coast home.
"People are getting priced out of their homes," said Gloria Evenson, a representative of First Immanuel Lutheran Church on the Near West Side. "And they have no place to go."
Members of ONE tried to deliver a letter of protest to Michael, but the doorman turned them away, and protesters continued marching in front of the building for at least 15 minutes before leaving.
Michael said later Thursday night that he and his company would never communicate with ONE again.
"I’ll never be able to trust them," he said when reached by phone. "They've threatened my personal life, my personal home — I’ll never trust them."
Michael likened ONE to a bully, saying that he would never go into a meeting like the one Thursday night "to have people bark at me in a big room."
"I gave an inch, and I got burned," Michael said. "I’m not sorry that we’ve dealt with tenants the way we have."
A ONE news release acknowledged Michael's efforts to help relocate displaced tenants in buildings he has bought, but said "It is predicted that former tenants may need to be moved as far as out of state."
ONE spokeswoman Mimi Harris said her group has met with Michael numerous times in the last year.
"And nothing was happening at all," Harris said. "He was very charming. He acted like he was ready to work with us. But he would not get specific about anything. He apparently does not intend to do any affordable housing.”
Michael "wants to maximize his profits, and doesn't care about any kind of balance," she said.
The FLATS buildings are 1025 W. Sunnyside Ave., 1050 W. Wilson Ave., 1325 W. Wilson Ave., 5718 N. Winthrop Ave., 5411 N. Winthrop Ave., 5051 N. Kenmore Ave. and 4875 N. Magnolia Ave.
Some of the structures are buildings other developers might run from, distressed properties in need of repair and renovation, including single room occupancy facilities for poor tenants on fixed incomes.
The plan is to flip the units and cash in big on market-rate apartments starting at $800 a month for a mini-studio, which is nearly twice as much as the $450 to $500 that SRO residents typically pay.