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Social Justice Group Unapologetic About Protest Outside Developer's Home

By Adeshina Emmanuel | January 27, 2013 8:09am

UPTOWN — A social justice group that marched on a real estate mogul's Gold Coast home in the name of affordable housing offers no apologies and shows little concern despite his vow to cut ties with the group. 

Critics of the protest said that the group, the Organization of the Northeast, burned an important bridge with FLATS Chicago and one of its partners, Jay Michael when they protested outside his apartment on Jan. 17.

"They've threatened my personal life, my personal home — I’ll never trust them," Michael said that night.

The group sparked just the reaction it wanted, if you ask organizers. ONE spokeswoman Mimi Harris downplayed the 31-year-old developer’s response earlier this week.

"[The protest] was quite appropriate. He would not come to us. So we took it to him," she said. "I guess he’s not ignoring us anymore."

She called several interactions with FLATS representatives and Michael in the past year “diversionary meetings."

Last week, ONE said it invited Michael to a meeting with more than 100 of its members and supporters. Activists wanted his word that he would designate 20 percent of the units in the seven residential buildings his company has bought across Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park as affordable housing. ONE said more than 1,200 units that had been affordable in recent years would be lost.

Activists wanted Michael but instead got FLATS representative Sherri Kranz, head of transitions.

The problem, the group said, is that Kranz came with a prepared statement but no authority to make a promise about affordable housing.

She was ousted from the meeting. Minutes later, some 60 protestors left and boarded two yellow school buses headed south on Lake Shore Drive — toward Michael’s apartment.

Last week, "disheartened" by the experience, Kranz issued a statement promising, like Michael, to end all discussions with ONE “and any of their member organizations.”

Four of the planned FLATS residential buildings on the Northeast Side are in Uptown. All are distressed properties or former single room occupancy facilities for poor tenants.

FLATS plans to renovate the buildings to offer market-rate apartments starting at $800 a month for a mini-studio.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) called the affordable housing issue a “loaded” topic in Uptown and the 46th Ward. He said the best thing he can do is “give people the facts.” According to him, the facts are this: "just over 20 percent of all the housing in the 46th ward receives some type of government subsidies," and “in most wards, it's around 5 percent — so that's pretty good,” he said, indicating support for Michael.

"There's an assumption that developers have all the money in the world, but developers, especially market rate developers, have to make a profit," he said.

Michael "will keep these rents affordable for people in their 20s and 30s who have a new job and are just starting out," as well as seniors, Cappleman added.

FLATS argues that ONE’s claim that 1,200 affordable units will be lost is misleading because the buildings were already partially vacant, failed developments, that housed a combined 180 people.

Kranz said that 90 percent of tenants who were displaced when flats began buying the buildings about a year and a half ago had been successfully relocated. The remaining 10 percent of tenants either relocated themselves or got help from another organization, according to FLATS.

But when it comes to relocation numbers, "they'd have to prove it to me," Harris said.