Housing Activists Vow to Fight Evictions of Logan Square Tenants for New TOD
6:31 PM CDT on September 9, 2016
Yesterday morning dozens of community residents and members of the Autonomous Tenants Union, Somos Logan Square, and Grassroots Illinois Action joined tenants of the 2340 N. California building in Logan Square as they announced their plans to fight their impending eviction.
Current landlord Francisco Macias plans to sell the two-story, mixed-use structure, located a few hundred feet north of the California Blue Line station, to Savoy Development so that it can be bulldozed to make room for an upscale, 138-unit transit-oriented development. At the press event, protesters brandished signs with messages like “We are still here and we’re not leaving” and “I am the face of eviction.”
Macias has served the tenants, who were on month-to-month leases, with 30-day eviction notices. First Ward alderman Joe Moreno approve a zoning change for the TOD, and City Council approved Savoy’s proposal in June. Savoy owner Enrico Plati hopes to break ground by the end of the year, once he receives a demolition permit from the city. However, the current residents’ plans to contest the eviction may significantly delay construction.
At the press conference, residents talked about how the evictions will negatively impact their lives. Adelina Silva, a senior, was noticeably shaken as she spoke. “We haven’t been able to find a place to go and I just got my foot operated on,” she said in Spanish. “I don’t know where we’ll go.”
The as-yet-unnamed high-rise is part of a wave of transit-friendly construction along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor that was largely spurred by the city’s transit-oriented development ordinance, which was originally passed in 2013 and was strengthened last year. The legislation eliminates parking minimums and allows for higher density at locations near rapid transit stops, which helps decrease car-dependency for the residents of the new buildings.
For example, under the old zoning rules, the Savoy development would have needed to provide 138 off-street parking spaces – one for each unit. Under the TOD ordinance Plati is opting to only build 44 parking spots, which significantly reduces construction costs. It also means fewer cars will be brought to the neighborhood, reducing congestion and pollution.
However, the vast majority of the new TODs are upscale buildings with high rents, and anti-gentrification activists say they are fueling the displacement of low-income and working-class residents from Logan Square by raising property values, property taxes, and rents. On the other hand, groups such as the Metropolitan Planning Council have argued that building more market-rate housing in gentrifying neighborhoods takes pressure off the rental market and helps prevent existing apartment buildings from being replaced by single-family homes.
Last April Somos Logan Square and Lifted Voices held a protest against two TOD projects located southeast on Milwaukee from the 2340 N. California building. The 216-unit “MiCa” development, also called the Twin Towers, with 56 parking spaces, is about to start moving in residents. Rents start at around $1,595 for a studio and go as high as $3,350 for a three-bedroom. The nearby “L” apartment building, with 120 units and 60 parking spots, has rental prices ranging from $1,575 for a studio to $3,900 for the most expensive three-bedrooms.
As a matter of policy, Alderman Moreno insists that 10 percent of units be set aside as designated “affordable” housing before he'll grant a zoning change, rather than letting developers take the cheaper route of paying into the city's affordable housing fund. The city requires that affordable rental units be within the means of households earning up to 60 percent of the Chicago region's area median income, or $43,440 for a family of four. Therefore “MiCa” will include 22 affordable units that will run about $800 a month, while “L” will include 12 affordable units.
According to Savoy’s Plati, rents at the TOD proposed for 2340 N. California haven’t been determined yet. He says there will be 20 affordable units, a mix of studio, one-bedrooms, and two-bedrooms.
However, according to organizers of yesterday’s event, the evictions at the six-unit building are representative of the displacement they see as being brought on by all of the new development. Whether or not you agree that upscale development causes displacement, the demographics of Logan Square have changed considerably in recent years. DNAinfo reported that between 2000 and 2014, the number of Latino residents in Logan Square dropped by about 19,200, a 35.6 percent decrease.
Lilly Lerner of the Autonomous Tenants Union attributes that shift to the gentrification of the neighborhood. “[We want] no more luxury development, no more higher property taxes, and no more displacement,” she said at the event.
2340 N. California landlord Macias was present at the rally. He said he’s only been charging $550-650 a month for the multi-room apartments, well below market rate for the location, but property taxes for the building have risen to $24,000 a year. Macias said he also considered rent increases, but ultimately decided to sell.
While the current tenants say they can’t afford a rent hike, the evictions leave them with the difficult task of finding affordable new homes in the neighborhood. “Rents [in the area] are extremely high,” said Jocelyne Silva, who lives with her grandmother Adelina Silva at the site, in Spanish. “This is our home and this is where we want to stay.”
Emmanuel Hernandez from Grassroots Illinois Action, a Humboldt Park native who moved to Los Angeles and recently returned, said he was shocked to see how much the area had changed. He noted that across the street from the Cozy Corner diner, a neighborhood institution, the 10-and-11-story towers of the “MiCa” development now stand.
Hernandez’s story illustrates an important point. The displacement issue may seem to merely involve the economic forces behind evictions and development, but it runs much deeper than that for many longtime residents. In discussing their anxiety about losing their physical homes, the 2340 N. California tenants also described their fear of losing familiarity and community.
After offering their testimonies, the protesters picketed the building. They chanted, “¡No estan solos!” (“You are not alone!”) and “Moreno, Moreno, amigo de los ricos” or “Moreno, Moreno, friend of the rich.”
Moreno is one of the few Chicago aldermen to require that ten percent of on-site units in new developments be affordable. However, he’s been a frequent target of anti-displacement activists who argue that he should be pushing for higher percentages of affordable housing in the buildings, at lower rents.
Staff members from Moreno’s office said they were unsure whether there has been any discussion of earmarking some of the 20 affordable units in Savoy’s new TOD for the six families that are being evicted. Plati declined to comment on whether this strategy has been considered.
“Earmarking units for displaced tenants could be an interesting solution,” responded a spokesperson from Somos Logan Square via email. “However, tenants would still have to find somewhere else to live during construction.” The spokesperson added that, based on the city’s affordability standards, these apartments still might be too expensive for tenants who are currently paying only $550-650 in rent.
Another idea would be for Savoy to provide the outgoing tenants with logistical and financial assistance in finding new homes. In Uptown, Cedar Street Co., which has been criticized for their practice of buying inexpensive units and converting them to the upscale FLATS apartments, has driven some displaced low-income residents to look at new homes and has paid the security deposits.
Organizers of yesterday’s protest said they will continue fighting the tenants’ evictions, with the goal of helping the tenants remain in the building for at least as long as necessary for them to find affordable new homes.
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