Latino Residents Are Being Displaced From Transit-Friendly Buildings in Albany Park
Activists call on Albany Bank to pressure Silver Property Group to negotiate with its tenants
On Saturday morning, a large crowd of Albany Park residents and tenants gathered in front of the CTA Brown Line’s Kimball Station. The Autonomous Tenants Union and Sunnyside Manor Tenants Union, with the support of 33rd Ward Working Families, were there to deliver a letter to Albany Bank and Trust Company in the hopes of sending a message to developer Ron D. Abrams of Silver Property Group, whose properties are partly funded through the bank’s mortgage loans.
In January 2017, Abrams purchased a 24-unit building in Albany Park at 3102 West Sunnyside, a short walk from the Kedzie Brown Line station. After collecting rent from January to July, Abrams issued every tenant in the building a 30-day notice, informing the residents that they had to leave their homes by the end of August.
This isn’t the first time Silver Property Group has faced off with tenants. Over the last few years, Silver has become a symbol of displacement in Albany Park due to a series of cases where he has purchased buildings and issued 30-day notices to the tenants, many of them at buildings with convenient ‘L’ access, which helps attract more affluent residents who commute downtown for work. In November, the ATU hosted a displacement tour of Albany Park with a focus on the real estate group.
In August 2014, Silver bought a 32-unit courtyard building at 3001 West Lawrence, a short walk from the Brown Line’s Francisco station. Tenants were then issued 30-day notices, a move 33rd Ward alderman Deb Mell supported, as the structure was deemed a “problem building” by her office. Some tenants decided to try to remain in their units, which included sending delegations to Silver’s office and bringing attention to the case through the local media. The tenants were ultimately unsuccessful in their efforts to remain in the building.
One resident, Patricia Cano, and her family were able to find an apartment at 4815 North Christiana, just north of the Kimball station. This building would later become the site of another mass removal of tenants. Silver bought the structure in 2016 and collected rent for five months before serving all tenants with 30-day notices. The residents again attempted to stay in their homes by holding press conferences and working with lawyers to build a discrimination case against Silver, arguing that they were being forced out because they were Latino, a charge that Abrams has denied.
The principal of Hibbard Elementary in Albany Park also got involved, since 30 of the children in the building were enrolled at the school at the time. Due to the increased pressure, 15 tenants were able to sign agreements with Abrams for extra time to remain and search for adequate housing elsewhere in the neighborhood.
In the case of the Sunnyside building, the ATU and Sunnyside Manor Tenants Union say they have tried to meet with Abrams to negotiate a similarly fair agreement. According to the ATU, Silver has subjected tenants to a slew of abuses to try to force them out, such as neglecting to maintain the property, verbal abuse, and intimidation by its staff and Abrams himself.
Four months after the 30-day noticed was issued, four tenants still remain in the building. One of them is Juan Pagan. When the building’s property manager first served him with his 30-day notice, Pagan didn’t want to take it. According to ATU, the manager subsequently threw the note in his face and told him to “Get the f— out.”
Another remaining resident is Mario Varela, 51, who has lived at the building for five years. He says tenants have endured “endless intimidation.” “Abrams has sent his maintenance staff to knock on our doors to ask us to leave at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.,” he says. “They shouted at women answering the doors, showing no respect.” Varela adds that Silver has been unresponsive to attempts by tenants to speak about their case. “There are a lot of cockroaches, a lot of rats, and the plumbing is old,” he says. “They have never approached us to see what the conditions of the building are. They don’t know us, they don’t know who lives here, and they don’t know our needs.”
Unable to to get in touch with Abrams to voice their concerns, tenants decided to attempt to reach him through other means: his funding sources. Albany Bank and Trust Company has granted Abrams over $23 million in mortgage loans over the years, including the mortgage on the building at 3102 West Sunnyside, according to the ATU.
After congregating in front of the Kimball Brown Line station, the tenants and supporters crossed the street to make their way to Albany Bank. They intended to deliver a letter to the bank asking it to reconsider its relationship with Silver and to use its influence with Abrams to pressure him to negotiate with his tenants in good faith.
“In their initial requests [the tenants] did ask Silver to pay for the first month’s rent at their new apartments,” says Jake Marshall from ATU. “But the asks are still flexible and negotiable, as they have always been.”
When the residents and activists reached the entrance to the bank, a security guard locked the door. After a few minutes, Adam Steinback, senior vice president of the bank, came out to meet the group.
Antonio Gutierrez of the Autonomous Tenants Union asked him if there was anyone they could speak with about the letter. Steinback said the person who may be able to help the group was out of town, but that the bank would “review the letter.” When asked for a timeline for when the bank would meet with the group, Steinback was unable to offer a clear answer.
Noticeably frustrated by the encounter, residents discussed why their activism is important. “We are the community of Albany Park, [the bank] is supposed to serve the community, but they’re giving money to this guy who’s breaking up this community, this neighborhood,” Pagan said. “We are the people that live in this neighborhood and sooner or later, we aren’t going to be able to live here.”
Varela says that all residents want is to have a chance to speak to Abrams to attempt to leave with some dignity. “We are human beings, we aren’t objects, we aren’t animals,” he says. “I ask for them to respect us because they live off our money. We ask for respect, that they respect our families, and to respect us like people.”
Silver Property Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Update 1/2/18: The post previously referred to the removal of tenants via 30-day notices as evictions. However, this does not fit the legal definition of an eviction, which only occurs after a tenant is taken to eviction court and the judge or jury decides in the landlord’s favor. The post has been updated accordingly.