PILSEN — A graffiti-splattered home across from Harrison Park is being blamed for neighborhood trouble, with critics saying it is a magnet for criminal activity.
The brick structure at 1758 W. 19th St. has a history of trouble going back more than 10 years. But now problems associated with the house are spilling over into the park, according to a longtime Chicago Park District employee.
“They’re a big problem,” the employee said of some of the people who live in the graffiti house. “I think the landlord is very naive in who he’s allowing to be there.”
The property has been cited for violations since 2002, according to Ald. Danny Solis (25th). In June, the property was inspected by both the Department of Buildings and the Chicago Police Department, and the property's owner is facing code violations, Solis' office said.
Those violations include broken window panes, missing smoke detectors, standing sewer water and unsanitary living conditions, Solis said.
But the owner of the property, Alfonso Pedraza, said he hasn’t seen any increased criminal activity or had any problems with tenants in the building.
“Before, lotta gangbangers right here,” he said. “Now, no more.”
Artistic graffiti was added to the house more than 20 years ago in an effort to curb heavy gang activity in the area at the time, Pedraza said.
The Harrison Park employee, who wished to remain anonymous, complained of loitering and harassment in the park by gang members and said occupants of the house are connected to an increase in bike thefts at the park.
The employee said he routinely calls police and has banned several teenagers from the park, but the problems continue.
“I can’t physically grab them and throw them out. I’ve been here 12 years [and] the more I call, the more trouble I get” from the delinquents, he said.
At a CAPS meeting on Feb. 20, Near West Police District Sgt. Juan Clas urged the employee to file written complaints after any incidents.
“We can’t lock ‘em up and put them in jail until somebody signs a complaint,” Clas said.
According to the alderman, Pedraza was ordered to evict two tenants who were arrested there. If those tenants have not left by April, Solis’ office said steps would be taken to remove them from the property.
Sandra Ortega, 19, said the gangs mostly come around after 3 p.m. and can be a problem for those who don’t live in the area.
“They just bother people they don’t know,” she said. “They don’t bother you if you look like you belong in the neighborhood.”