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Atrium Village Residents Ask Developer To Preserve 'Community of Families'

By Ted Cox | December 13, 2016 8:29am
 Toni Pullen, chairwoman of the meeting, said Onni Group showed a lack of
Toni Pullen, chairwoman of the meeting, said Onni Group showed a lack of "respect" for residents.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

OLD TOWN — A close-knit, mixed-race Near North Side community near Cabrini-Green pleaded for answers and concessions from a developer Monday at a community meeting.

The Atrium Village tenants' town-hall meeting found many long-term residents trying to explain the nature of the close-knit community that had formed there, largely under subsidized housing as originally organized by four local churches.

Sherry Williams, who said she'd lived in the general area for 58 years, the last 17 at Atrium Village, called it "a place where life and family matters, a place we call home."

But she said it had been torn by "fear, anxiety, skepticism and mistrust" after residents of the 55 units in the so-called 200 cluster were given 90-day eviction notices at the end of November.

 The Onni Group's Brian Brodeur and Justin Girard pledged to meet regularly directly with residents.
The Onni Group's Brian Brodeur and Justin Girard pledged to meet regularly directly with residents.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CTA Brown and Purple Line riders will know Atrium Village as the building with the child-care center and tennis courts at Division Street. That mid-rise is expected to stay in place. But the first of four new towers being developed by the Onni Group, with an estimated 1,500 units, is under construction at Division and Wells Street after breaking ground in March. Low-rise Atrium Village housing was demolished to accommodate that.

The developer announced over the summer that it was speeding up the second tower, meaning the so-called 200 cluster of homes, 55 units on the 200 block of West Hill Street, would need to be vacated by the end of February for demolition to begin in the spring. That went back on pledges made by the previous developer that any new development might take five years and would lead to no relocations.

Kelly Kass said she'd moved in earlier this year with her son, a student at Walter Payton College Prep right across the street, and originally had a lease running throughMay. But it was rescinded and she received an eviction notice last month.

"It's simply barbaric," she said. "The premise of this development was for families."

"We fell in love with this community," added Elmedina Goodman, who also has a son at Payton and who moved in in June only to be told almost immediately of the impending February eviction. "Nobody was supposed to be displaced from Atrium, and yet we are going to be displaced."

Sandy Nash, an Atrium resident for almost 30 years and a retired Chicago Police officer, called Atrium Village "a community of families."

"And we want to stay that way," she said. "We want to be a part of of any new development Onni has."

Nash's issue was that she pays market-rate rent and did not qualify for affordable housing, but she wanted to make sure Onni would nevertheless have an affordable place for her in its development.

Onni Group Development Manager Brian Brodeur estimated that market prices would range from $1,700 for a studio to $4,500 for a three-bedroom unit.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) touted that he had persuaded Onni to agree to 20 percent on-site affordable housing, at least 300 units in the final project.

"My main thing was trying to keep the development affordable," Burnett said. "I was fighting for the affordable folks, and that's what I try to do all the time."

He said he had to "encourage" Onni to "adhere to the covenant" for 20 percent on-site affordable housing and called it "a big deal" to get that concession.

"There is no private development that does that," Burnett insisted.

"There are only certain things we can do," he added. "We can't protect everybody."

Brodeur said only Chicago Housing Authority residents were being considered "grandfathered" in to new spots in the development, although he said he'd take the proposal to make allowances for other long-term residents to Onni executives.

"Is there nothing that can be done at this point?" Toni Pullen, chairwoman of the meeting, asked Burnett.

"I'll see what I can do. But I'll tell you," Burnett said, "legally I don't know what I can do to stop that."

Pullen also took issue with the Near North Unity Program and the Rev. Randall Blakey, of LaSalle Street Church, one of the original Atrium organizers, acting as middleman between Onni and residents.

"It shows a lack of respect for the tenants who live at Atrium," she told Brodeur. "Just meet with us. Talk to us. We are human beings. We've raised children here. I do think we deserve better treatment."

Brodeur pledged to hold regular meetings directly with residents.

Terry Byrne, who said he'd lived at Atrium since moving in as a college student in 1989, urged residents to accept the changes as inevitable, saying, "The Atrium that we knew does not exist."

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