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Astor House Residents Seek Help From God, and Alderman, at Vigil

By Benjamin Woodard | August 22, 2013 9:34am
 Ald. Joe Moore called the residents' attempt to force the owners of the Astor House to help them an "extortion."
Astor House Residents Pray
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ROGERS PARK — A group of clergy members and affordable housing advocates gathered on a Greenview Avenue sidewalk Wednesday evening to pray for Ald. Joe Moore.

"I raise those who are acting unjustly in prayer, may they come to fully understand the consequence of their greed, their ignorance and their neglect," said the Rev. Aidan McCormick, praying for residents of Rogers Park's troubled Astor House.

"May they become more ethical, more cooperative and more humane," he said. "May we know justice and peace in our communities. May it be so, amen and blessings."

McCormick and the others at the prayer vigil pleaded to God and Moore (49th) for a reprieve from the new owners of the Astor House, a high-rise at 1246 W. Pratt Blvd.

Residents there say they've lived with bedbugs and busted elevators for too long, and now the building's owner, BJB Properties, is evicting them to renovate the building for market-rate tenants.

Moore was Downtown at the time of the vigil, according to one of his aides, but said in a statement that the building had been greatly improved by the new owner, who had applied for construction permits to repair the elevator and replace the boiler.

After meeting with six of the unhappy tenants, he found their claims to be "without cause," he said.

"I have no desire to arrange a joint meeting with the landlords that appears to be nothing more than an attempt at extortion and to justify the existence of this new advocacy group," he added, referring to organizers Northside Action for Justice.

Moore's refusal was the second time he publicly turned down the activists.

Last month, they staged their first demonstration outside the 22-year alderman's Rogers Park office.

"I'm more than willing to advocate on behalf of any tenant who has a legitimate complaint. However, I refuse to be used as a tool to justify some tenant organizer's salary," he said at the time.

Most of the activists are volunteers.

Residents such as Arbie Bowman, 45, said she's suffered through rodent and bed bug infestations since moving to the Astor House with her 8-year-old daughter, Rosemary, nearly three years ago.

The infestation was so bad at one time that her daughter was forced to sleep on top of a coffee table to avoid being bitten throughout the night, she said.

Bowman and the other tenants want BJB Properties to help pay for them to move to other housing. But for residents used to paying $550 a month, comparable rent is hard to come by on the North Side.

Now she plans to move from the Astor House after getting a job in the neighborhood as a live-in caregiver for an elderly man.

BJB properties has started renovating the building with some of the old tenants still there. Six-month leases for renovated units similar to Bowman's are being advertised on Craigslist for about $700. They boast new hardwood floors and "gorgeous views."

Bowman said there are about 15 old tenants still living in the building, while about 20 college-age tenants have moved in.

BJB Properties principal Jamie Purcell has been unresponsive to requests for comment.

"What we are expecting from our alderman is that he will confer to serve the needs of those who are in most need," John Taylor, who works with Catholic Relief Services, said at the gathering. "We demand it and expect it. We pray for it."