PARK RIDGE — Affordable housing activists are taking their fight against gentrification on Chicago's North Side right to developers' doorsteps.
A weekend march at the Park Ridge home of developer Jamie Purcell came on the heels of a similar protest against FLATS Chicago developer Jay Michael in January, when two buses of protesters paid a visit to his Gold Coast condo.
On Saturday, about two dozen people loaded into a rented school bus in front of the Astor House, 1246 W. Pratt Blvd., and drove 10 miles to knock on doors in Purcell's neighborhood to protest plans to redevelop the building.
"It's the 99 percent going against the 1 percent," said Melvin Jennings, a security guard who claims he was served a "bogus" eviction notice at the Astor House.
Jennings and other residents say they're being wrongfully evicted so Purcell, a principal partner of BJB Properties and the person who signed the Astor House's new mortgage, could renovate the bed-bug infested building and raise rents.
"He's buying up property all over the North Side. They're trying to evict tenants already there and make it unaffordable for" them, said Kevin Brown, a university student and Rogers Park resident who volunteers with activist group Northside Action for Justice. "There's very little affordable housing on the North Side."
After Jennings and other residents spent 30 minutes canvassing Purcell's neighborhood, passing out fliers, they convened on the developer's doorstep.
Jamie Purcell's brother, Robert Purcell, and two Park Ridge police officers, who had expected a larger crowd, were waiting for them.
Robert Purcell told some of the protesters that BJB Properties was doing all it could for residents of the Astor House and other buildings the company recently bought, such as the Abbott Hotel and Chateau Hotel in Lakeview.
Tenants insist they've received no help finding new place to live.
"They're just kicking people out," said Mark Caplan, a long-time activist and proponent of affordable housing in Chicago.
He said some residents had been looking for months and haven't been able to find affordable housing on the North Side.
"This particular time in history is the worst gentrification I have seen" since the '80s, he said. "This is something we have to stop because it affects the survival of the community."
Caplan said that if Purcell "doesn't meet with the tenants and negotiate in good faith," then the group will hold more protests.
Jennings, holding a sign expressing the sentiment, slipped past the two Cadillac Escalades parked in Purcell's driveway to knock on the door.
There was no answer.
Brown, the young activist from Rogers Park, said he hopes the message was clear: "We're watching you. We're not going to let you destroy affordable housing in our community."