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SRO Moratorium Passes City Council, Cappleman Votes 'Yes'

By Adeshina Emmanuel | July 31, 2014 8:40am | Updated on July 31, 2014 9:48am
 The former Chateau Hotel, which was bought by a developer with intentions of a market-rate conversion.
The former Chateau Hotel, which was bought by a developer with intentions of a market-rate conversion.
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UPTOWN — A six-month moratorium on demolishing or converting single-room occupancy buildings and residential hotels was approved by the City Council on Wednesday with a 47-0 vote that included support from 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman, who last week questioned the measure.

The law was backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a group of aldermen including Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) and Ald. Walter Burnett (27th). It aims to buy time so a separate law can be crafted to preserve the city's existing SROs and residential hotels.

"The loss of these effectively irreplaceable forms of affordable housing could force low income households into homelessness, subjecting many more persons and families to Inhumane living conditions and increased crime," the ordinance says.

Cappleman, whose ward includes Uptown and Lakeview, worried at a City Council committee meeting last week that the city was "promoting a failed model" of housing with SROs, though he had expressed in recent months support for the broader SRO preservation effort.

On Wednesday, he voted in favor of the moratorium as it passed the council without discussion. Cappleman wasn't reachable to explain his vote.

SRO buildings, often offering weekly leases, and monthly rents from as low as $280 to upward of $600, consist of very small bedrooms with residents sharing kitchens and bathrooms.

Advocates for poor people and affordable housing commonly refer to SROs as "housing of last resort" for folks fighting homelessness, and have been pushing for the preservation ordinance in the aftermath of the loss of thousands of SRO units in the city in recent years.

Many SROs, the former Chateau Hotel in Lakeview among them, were recently bought by new owners with intentions of rehabbing the structures and hiking rents. Advocates say the conversions leave too many tenants living in shelters or on the street.

The moratorium, which would prohibit the city from issuing future permits for conversions and demolition, comes too late to stop the conversion of the Chateau.

The ordinance predicts that allowing further conversions of SROs would result in increased numbers of homeless people which "would add to the already practically overwhelming burden on public and nonprofit agencies."

Critics of SROs and residential hotels for the poor argue that the buildings are commonly in horrible shape and unsafe for tenants, and that a developer willing to foot the bill to fix the buildings is providing a benefit rather than a detriment to communities.

Some neighbors around the buildings in communities such as Uptown and Lakeview also blame SROs for issues of drug activity, public drinking, panhandling and vagrancy. And in Uptown, critics have noted what they consider an unfair concentration of cheap housing that should be more evenly distributed across the city.

The city says that since 2008, 30 licensed SROs have closed in Chicago, leaving about 5,000 to 6,000 units at the remaining 73 SROs. Advocates for SROs estimate that more than 2,000 SRO units have been converted since 2011,

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