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Uptown Hotel Meant For Vulnerable Tenants Will Be Mostly Market Rate Under Controversial Developer

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jul 24, 2017 9:20PM

Wilson Men's Club Hotel / 1124 W Wilson / Google Maps

Jennifer Ritter, Executive Director of ONE Northside, told Chicaogist that her organization is in fact hoping to keep the low-cost units available for residents. "The goal is to preserve the affordable housing for the tenants," Ritter said. "Relocation is becoming virtually impossible."

The Wilson Men's Hotel in Uptown—a longstanding cubicle-style single-room-occupancy building that provides low-cost housing for nearly 150 vulnerable tenants—has been purchased by a controversial developer who plans to remodel the space into studio apartments. The developer has vowed to designate 20 percent of the new development for affordable housing and also work with community organizations to relocate the Hotel residents. At the same time, some activists remain skeptical of the plan.

The Wilson Men's Hotel (1124 W. Wilson Ave.) was sold to apartment search company City Pads, the company's founder Andrew Ahitow announced last week. Ahitow recently faced heat from affordable-housing and anti-gentrification advocates after crews last month painted over the iconic murals at the former Casa Aztlan property, which Ahitow is redeveloping into condos.

Ahitow in a statement posted by Uptown Update seemed intent on avoiding any similar conflict over the Uptown property, pledging to make at least 20 percent of post-remodel units affordable. (Ahitow has resisted similar demands over the Casa Aztlan property.) He also addressed the situation of present-day residents who would be displaced in the transition:

"We are dedicated to collaborating with ONE Northside and current tenant associations to create a desirable, effective and safe relocation plan for current residents. We know firsthand that homes house precious memories, which is why the current tenants of 1124 W. Wilson will have first priority to live in the remodeled building."

But according to the Sun-Times, the plan for the redevelopment is to have 75 to 82 studios, which would leave just 16 units as affordable under the 20 percent pledge. Even if 16 current residents could pay the new affordable rate (current rents are in the very low $360-per-month range), that would leave 131 residents in need of housing, and 184 fewer low-rent options in total.

As mentioned, Ahitow has vowed to work out relocations, but residents to whom the Sun-Times spoke were opposed to having to be moved. (Chicagoist has reached out to ONE Northside for more information about collaboration with City Pads on resident relocation plans, and we'll update as more information becomes available.)

At the same time, activists such as Andy Thayer, of the Uptown Tent City Organizers, worry that redevelopments like the Wilson Men's Club Hotel will contribute to a "surge" in homeless tent cities in the neighborhood, which is already grappling with the issue as SROs continue to diminish. "The City’s own homelessness count for 2016, derided by many as a severe undercount, nonetheless showed a 9.4% surge in Uptown’s homeless population over just the previous year,” UTCO spokesman Ryne Poelker told Huffington Post.

A shutdown of the Hotel loomed in 2013, but Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) eventually let go of an ordinance the he sponsored, which would have prohibited cubicle hotels in communities such as Uptown. The proposal faced a well-publicized pushback from residents and activists, and also lacked Mayor Rahm Emmanuel's co-sign. While the quarters are extremely cramped, the cheap rent made the cubicle rooms a viable option for those with few resources, supporters argued.

The president of affordable-housing nonprofit Interfaith Housing Development Corporation told the Sun-Times that the organization was willing to purchase the Hotel but required six months to secure financing—which was reportedly longer than the previous owner , Jay Bomberg, was willing to wait.