Controversial Developer Who Bought Wilson Men's Hotel Refuses To Discuss Relocation Plans, Residents Say

By Stephen Gossett in News on Aug 17, 2017 6:56PM

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Photo: Stephen Gossett

The controversial developer who recently purchased the Wilson Men's Hotel—which provides low-cost, single-room-occupancy housing spaces for some 150 vulnerable residents in Uptown—has not kept his word on a previous pledge to meet and discuss relocation plans, residents said at a Thursday press conference.

City Pads founder Andrew Ahitow purchased the longstanding building last month and plans to convert it into between 75 and 80 studio units. After the purchase, he said in a public statement and at a tenant meeting that he was committed to safely relocating current residents; but since that time, he has refused to meet to discuss plans "and is only interested in discussing... government subsidies after the building is vacated," according to resident Eric Holmes, who spoke at a press conference on Thursday morning. Ahitow in response to calls for a meeting instead apparently told tenants there would be individual interviews with a transition team.

Ahitow told residents last month that he would make 20 percent of the new units affordable, according to Tommie Hannah, a Hotel resident and chairman of the tenants association. But that would only amount to about 16 units, leaving more than 130 people in need of housing. The city's Single-Room Occupancy and Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance requires that a relocation assistance fee of $2000 be paid to long-term residents in lieu of a housing option; but that figure is low for residents with so few resources, and talks have been unproductive on that front with Ahitow as well, Hannah said.

Hannah also added that a liaison from City Pads that had visited residents was not a social worker but a realtor.

Fears of displacement also are mixed with concurrent anxiety about gentrification, a driving force behind the Hotel saga, residents said. "Gentrification is not the word of the day," Hannah told the group of several dozen residents and activists who gathered on Thursday afternoon. It "should not be done on the backs of the poor and destitute," he added.

Ahitow and City Pads are also behind the redevelopment of the former Casa Aztlan building in Plisen. That effort drew a rash of criticism when crews painted over the iconic murals that adorned the exterior ahead of the building's conversion to luxury apartments. The controversial episode was referenced on Thursday by Moises Moreno, of Pilsen Alliance, who attended in solidarity with the Wilson Men's Hotel residents. "How is that humane?" he said, referencing the "whitewashing." He said Ahitow has not yet committed to a community benefits agreement that activists continue to seek.

After the conference in front of the Hotel (1124 W. Wilson Ave.), residents then marched around the block to deliver a letter to Ald. James Cappleman (Ward 46). The letter asks Cappleman to refuse Ahitow any zoning changes "or other regulatory support" until the developer "honors his word to draft a transparent relocation plan" upon which all parties can agree. The alderman wasn't in the office, but the letter was delivered to Cappleman's chief of staff who assured residents that he would get it.

Hannah said that Cappleman told him in an email last month that the alderman was committed to see that no residents were left homeless by the transition. Uptown saw an increase in homelessness of more than 9 percent last year, according to Uptown Tent City Organizers.

Chicagoist has reached out to Cappleman and Ahitow for comment and will update as necessary.