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Astor House Tenants Kicked Out on Eve of County Holiday Eviction Ban

By Benjamin Woodard | December 17, 2013 8:19am
 Former Astor House tenant Arbie Bowman (r.) and supporters protest outside the Daley Center Monday.
Former Astor House tenant Arbie Bowman (r.) and supporters protest outside the Daley Center Monday.
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DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard

DALEY CENTER — Former tenants of the Astor House who were evicted from their apartments late Friday — three days before the county's holiday eviction moratorium began — said they were unfairly targeted by management of the Rogers Park building despite the cold and the snow.

One of the evicted tenants, Charles Roth, 55, ended up going to Stroger Hospital because he was too sick to go to a temporary shelter, his volunteer live-in caretaker, James Barnett, said Monday.

"They basically knocked on the door, they came into the apartment with the sheriff's [deputies] and said we were being evicted," said Barnett, 48.

Barnett said Roth — a recovering alcoholic with a bad liver and peripheral artery disease — has seen his health deteriorate at the hospital and has been placed under intensive care and on a ventilator to help him breathe.

"It's actually killing him," Barnett said.

His doctors said he might not make it more than a couple days, Barnett said.

Roth's attorney, Victoria Ogunsanya with the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, said because of his poor health, her client should not have been kicked out by the building's owners, BJB Properties.

On Monday, Ogunsanya and Barnett pleaded the case before Cook County Judge George Scully Jr. at the Daley Center, requesting that he reverse the eviction of the ill man.

"The eviction was improper," she said before the hearing.

But Scully declined to take immediate action. 

"Whether they did it improperly or not, they are in possession" of the unit, he said. "You're asking me to delay something that's already happened."

He allowed seven days for attorneys representing BJB Properties to review the request and submit a response.

Their next court date is set for Dec. 26.

BJB Properties, however, maintains the action was proper. The company has taken "significant strides to renovate the property from the condition it was left in before they took it over," said Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for BJB.

"We do not believe affordable housing means deplorable housing," he said, adding that the residents evicted hadn't paid rent in more than a year.

McLaughlin declined to comment on Roth's situation.

But Ogunsanya said Roth's eviction "came completely unexpected." She said she had been confident her client wouldn't face eviction until after Christmas.

"Over the past couple of months we've been working really hard to try to get him somewhere quickly," she said. "This is just not the type of person who should be kicked out of their apartment a few days before the [eviction] moratorium." The moratorium started Monday and continues through Jan. 2.

Opponents have been protesting since March BJB's plan to renovate and raise rents at the troubled building at 1246 W. Pratt Blvd., which has long suffered from bed bugs, busted elevators and other building code violations.

In April, a bus full of protesters marched outside BJB principal Jamie Purcell's Park Ridge home. Ald. Joe Moore (49th) was pulled into the battle, too, when the residents twice targeted his office.

Some new tenants have moved into the building since BJB took over.

Most of the original tenants have since made plans to move out of the building, including Melvin Jennings, who reached a $2,500 settlement with BJB last month after not paying rent for months.

He also was evicted Friday.

"Everybody got evicted on Friday," said Arbie Bowman, a former Astor House tenant who attended Roth's hearing Monday. "They thought they'd have until next year to find other places to live."

Kevin Brown, a member of Community United Against Foreclosure and Eviction, said he went to the Astor House Saturday to help the evicted tenants move their belongings off the sidewalk and into storage.

"A bunch of stuff was snow-covered," he said.

Sophia Ansari, a spokeswoman for the Cook County Sheriff's Office, said the Astor House evictions enforced Friday had been filed in September, "but were postponed to help the affected residents with services."

Members of Chicago's Department of Family and Support Services were at the building Friday to help move the displaced residents, she said.

Outside of the moratorium, the sheriff doesn't enforce evictions if the temperature dips below 15 degrees, she said. Friday's temperature hit a high of 32 degrees and a low of 13, according to data.

Barnett, Roth's caretaker, said he'd been staying with friends since the eviction but now plans to stay with Roth at the hospital.

He said doctors told him Monday night that Roth was having trouble breathing and "might be gone in the next couple of days."

It's "just a big mess," he said, "a big mess."