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'Chicago for All' Ordinance Aims to Preserve SRO Housing

 Vivien Tsou, flanked by various Chicago aldermen, speaks in support of the Chicago for All ordinance.
Vivien Tsou, flanked by various Chicago aldermen, speaks in support of the Chicago for All ordinance.
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ONE Northside

LAKEVIEW — Chicago aldermen joined community leaders and activists at a Lakeview synangogue Sunday to announce support for an ordinance aimed at preserving Chicago's single room occupancy buildings, often described as the "housing of last resort" in the face of homelessness.

The "Chicago For All" ordinance will be introduced at City Hall on May 28, officials said Sunday at Anshe Emet Synagogue, 3751 N. Broadway, the site of the inaugral conference for ONE Northside, a community group resulting from a merger between the Lakeview Action Coalition and the Organization of the Northeast.

Under the ordinance, SRO owners would have to ask the city's permission to convert SRO buildings priced for the poor to market rate housing, and would only gain that permission if they agree to keep at least 80 percent of the units as affordable housing or pay a fee for the loss of affordable units.

Four DNAinfo reporters chat about the current state and future outlook for single room occupancy buildings:

Chicago For All's lead sponsors are Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), Ald. Will Burns (4th), Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).

Sponsors were joined by supporters including Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) and Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd),  who pledged their support for Chicago For All in front of more than 1,000 low-income tenants, activists, clergy and community organizers.

"I'm standing with the other aldermen," Burnett said. "We're going to do everything we can to make sure that this housing is in place, because we don't want people to lose their apartments."

ONE Northside says that about 2,500 units of affordable housing have been lost on the North Side since 2011.

Their tally includes the conversions of several former SRO buildings in Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park and the shuttering of various Lakeview SROs, including the Chateau Hotel. Activists allege while some tenants have been relocated on the North Side, others who couldn't afford market rate rent in the area or find other low-income units had to move to faraway neighborhoods — and others have ended up homeless.

Burnett called SRO housing "the next step from sleeping on someone's couch."

Former Chateau resident Robert Rohdenbeurg said about the ordinance, "If we wait, all of our SROs will be lost to market rate developers."

Rohdenberg, who lived at a homeless shelter in Uptown before moving to the new Buffett Place SRO in Lakeview, noted the Milshire Hotel in Logan Square is slated to close at the end of the month, displacing more people. 

Vivien Tsou of Uptown-based community organization Lift said "we are facing a housing crisis" when it comes to affordable housing on the North Side.

"The ordinance helps prevent homelessness, but even more, racial and economic segregation in Chicago," Tsou said.

ONE Northside said that distressed SRO buildings in need of rehab aren't automatically doomed for market-rate makeovers that displace poor residents, using the Buffett Place as an example.

Buffett Place, formerly the Diplomat Hotel, was shuttered for code violations in 2009 but with strong support from Tunney was acquired by the city and sold to a partnership between the private Brinshore Development LLC and the non-profit social service agency Thresholds that renovated the building and kept it affordable.

Politicians also secured more than $10 million in state and federal housing tax credits for the project.

Absent at the conference was Uptown's alderman, Ald. James Cappleman (46th). The event was held in the Lakeview side of his ward.

A messsage from ONE Northside to Cappleman was projected on a wall in the synagogue, asking him to "stand with ONE Northside" on the SRO issue.

Cappleman has had a rocky relationship with local housing activists, but the alderman says they overestimate the power he has over private developers.

He wasn't immediately reachable for comment about the SRO Ordinance.