CHICAGO—Phyllis Wilson’s 57-year-old neighbor told her that he was too sick to come out of his apartment one day this past winter. He died of pneumonia three days later.
Ms. Wilson, 65, believes the unsafe, inhumane and unhealthy living conditions were the cause of her neighbor’s death. Paramedics arrived on December 22, 2021, to attempt to treat Ivory Banks, but it was too late.
“The conditions there are inhumane. Ivory had a hole in his ceiling. You could see outside. We have no hot water, no heat–the basement is flooded and my floors are full of water. We have mildew, mold, and rats. Our water comes out brown, gold, black. I come in from out of town and my ceiling has fallen down and my floors are full of water,” says Ms. Wilson, who has lived in her apartment for seven years.
In Illinois, a landlord mustkeep rental units fit to live in, must make all necessary repairs and must keep the rental unit in compliance with state and local health and housing codes.
One 12-unit property sits on a quiet middle class, mostly single family home block, but residents are concerned that out of state building owners are concerned only with collecting rent and doing very few repairs.
Ms. Wilson’s building, located at 7300 S. Wabash on the South Side, is currently owned by Regeis Chicago Realty, LLC and the only company contact information is a Brooklyn, New York, mailing address.
Not only is the current owner difficult to reach to file a complaint, say tenants, but the ownership of the property has apparently changed hands multiple times over the past three years. Since 2019 the property appears to have changed ownership eight times, sometimes, for a zero dollar amount, The Final Calldiscovered.
Additionally, the owners of the property on 7300 S. Wabash received a near $3.6 million loan despite the property being valued between $500,000 if the property is in need of repairs and $1.8 million in good condition, meaning not needing any major repairs and functioning properly.
Tenants say they have suffered from mold, lack of heat, no hot water, collapsed ceilings, chipping paint, and multiple hazardous conditions for months.
They are not alone. Outraged tenant leaders organized from more than 40 buildings across the South Side with assistance from the Metropolitan Tenants Organization. They held an April 21 press conference on a street corner in the Chatham neighborhood. They demanded a more thorough approach to deal with distressed buildings.
“We are out here today to talk about issues facing a multitude of buildings in Chatham, in South Shore, in Englewood and in Woodlawn that are all operated by similar affiliated out of state landlords,” says Sam Clendenning, an MTO community organizer.
Despite being managed by different property management companies, under “different” ownership, they all are linked to the same out-of-town corporate address in New York, and the tenants are all living in the same substandard conditions, he adds.
It is time for the city of Chicago and its elected officials to hold these corporate owners accountable, the community organizer argues.
“We got out of town people from New York and California coming in the Chicago area buying up buildings for little bit of nothing. They come and put band-aids on cancer buildings that need to be totally gutted out and taken over with the precautions, the right measures,” says Jolondon Jamerson, a Chicago resident. She lives in a South Side building where tenants took over, got a grant and are now making improvements.
“If you go down 79th Street from South Shore all the way down to State Street there are abandoned buildings, abandoned storefront properties that are just sitting here. If you got a vacant place, it needs to be either sold, fixed up and something done with it,” says Ms. Jamerson.
In “The Color of Law,” historian Richard Rothstein explains that housing segregation is not a natural phenomenon in the U.S. He argues it’s no accident because it has been implemented at all levels of government. This segregation is responsible for Black Americans being impoverished, blocked from homeownership and often forced into substandard rentals. Even today, governments are still actively segregating American cities to Black disadvantages.
The tenants want the city of Chicago to bring all troubled buildings into building court to ensure comprehensive repairs. They also want city council members to support and pass a Chicago Healthy Homes Ordinance that would enforce proactive inspections and include a rental registry. Finally, they are calling for a federal investigation of predatory slumlordswho abuse the mortgage market to profit at the expense of a community’s health and safety.
“We are not going to keep tolerating out-of-towners coming in our community, buying up property and not doing anything with it. That’s not fair to us. Let us take over these properties and we can rehabilitate them,” says Ms. Jamerson.
“We got slums over here. We got slum landlords. Something has gotta change. Government, come in, investigate and make them do the right thing or let us buy our properties and do the right thing.”
Alderman Roderick Sawyer supports the tenants efforts and sent a statement via MTO. “Out of an abundance of caution, the 6th Ward office has been on lockdown due to a potential covid situation. The alderman sees the issues tenants are facing and wanted to make it clear that tenants deserve safe, clean, affordable, and un-harassed housing,” says Mr. Clendenning, who read the statement.
—Toure Muhammad, Contributing Writer