EDGEWATER — Residents of the Hollywood House senior home say they're being mistreated and that a taxpayer-funded renovation of the building wasn't money well spent.
The group of residents has been complaining ever since Heartland Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates to end poverty, took over the building in 2008, said Ron Woodling, 68, who has lived in a studio apartment in the senior home for six years.
Woodling and several other residents raised so much of a stink, Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) caught wind of the situation, and the city launched an inspection of construction work funded with $9.9 million in tax increment financing money in addition to federal tax credits.
An inspection in July, however, didn't find the shoddy work the residents complained about, said Peter Strazzabosco, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Economic Development.
"We’ve been dealing with the Hollywood House on a pretty ongoing basis," said Osterman, referencing some of the resident's complaints at 5700 N. Sheridan Road. "We’d met repeatedly with management" beginning a few months ago.
And since then, he said, Heartland has made some changes to appease residents' complaints, such as hiring a front desk security guard and replacing the building's manager.
"We want to address their needs. If there are ways to improve their quality of life, we want to do it," said Michael Goldberg, the executive director of Heartland's housing department.
Out of the nearly 200 affordable housing apartments in the building, Goldberg said the complaints were coming from "an incredibly small number" of units and that the majority of tenants said the allegations were unfair and inaccurate.
Still, some residents say they're mistreated by the senior home's management.
"I liked living here," Woodling said of the days when the building was managed by the Hellenic Foundation. "Oh my God: Bingo twice a week, delicious banquets every month — themed! We had real plates and real silverware, table clothes, cloth napkins. Now we're lucky to get a paper plate with a small piece of cake on it and napkins that look like it came from the prison commissary.”
Sally Olson, 70, said she hired an attorney when Heartland attempted to improperly evict her in 2012.
A notice of termination, signed by the former Hollywood House manager, states Olson "verbally abused the front desk staff member" and "removed tablecloths from the bingo tables in the community room."
A letter dated Aug. 21, 2012, from Olson to Heartland states she would dispute the allegations in court.
"It really traumatized me," she said.
Then, earlier this year, the manager delivered another notice claiming Olson had violated her lease because of "dog urine and feces on the floor in the apartment" and could be evicted for failing an inspection.
Olson disputes the claims, saying her dog had defecated on a disposable pad made for dogs to use indoors when U.S. Housing and Urban Development inspectors came through her apartment along with the manager.
"Now it had turned into two pee-pee papers to, like, feces and urine all over the place," she said. "I'm going, 'I don't think so'. ... They did it to aggravate the hell out of me."
"It's like living in hell," she added, but won't move because there's a lack of housing she can afford on Chicago's North Side.
Goldberg said the manager has since been promoted to oversee several other Heartland buildings and no longer works at the Hollywood House.
In 2008, Heartland Alliance received $9.9 million in TIF money to help pay for a $32.5 million renovation that would replace the building's plumbing, boilers and repair elevators.
Because of the public funding, most of the building's units had to be offered to tenants who make 60 percent less than the area's median income for at least 30 years, according to city documents. Then-Ald. Mary Ann Smith supported the project as well as the building's former owner, the Hellenic Foundation.
Ex-tenant Alfonso Jurado said Heartland had cut corners on the renovation and taken his claims as a "whistleblower" to various government agencies.
"We're trying to get them to admit they did not buy new boilers and elevators," said Jurado, who now lives in a Chicago Housing Authority senior home nearby. "We want them to get us to show us what they bought."
But Goldberg says Hollywood House's old boilers were replaced with new ones and the elevators were "rebuilt."
Another resident, 69-year-old Alan Padratzik, said he had trouble getting from his wheelchair to a seat in the shower. He said he had to buy an additional pull bar.
He also says his shower drain overflows.
"Every time I take a shower, I get a flood on my floor," he said.
Goldberg said the renovation was under intense scrutiny and the building was inspected five times a year and followed all applicable laws that regulate the senior housing industry.
"There are a handful of individuals that [for them] that’s not enough," Goldberg said. "And I don’t know if we’re going to satisfy them."
So why don't these unhappy residents move elsewhere?
"This is the neighborhood that I’ve lived in most of my Chicago life, and this is the neighborhood that I know," Padratzik said. "Looking at rents in other places, I can’t afford $800 or $900 rent."