Thousands of Chicagoans call single-resident occupancy ( SRO ) and residential hotels home. The city has lost more than 2,000 units throughout the city. Those units were transformed into market-rate housing. About 6,000 units aren't owned by a "mission-driven" entity.
Chicago for All wants to preserve that housing. Representatives and supporters held a brief May 28 press conference at City Hall. Chicago for All is coalition headed by ONE Northside.
"Our city is currently facing a crisis…a housing crisis," Voice of the People Organizer D'Angelo Boyland said.
The press conference was planned to introduce a proposed SRO ordinance. That introduction was until June, following after a May 27 meeting with the Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office. Boyland, who headlined the press conference, stressed his optimism.
"We're thrilled to be making progress with this legislation," he said.
Lead sponsors include 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr., 4th Ward Ald. William Burns, 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell and 47th Ald. Ameya Pawar. Co-sponsors include 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman, 2nd Ward Ald. Robert Fioretti, 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno, 43rd Ward Alderwoman Michele Smith, 44th Ward Ald. Thomas Tunney and 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack.
According to a Chicago For All Coalition fact sheet, current SRO building owners must secure a Department of Planning and Development permit to convert, demolish or sell SRO property.
A permit, per the proposed ordinance, would only be granted if, among other things, the property is converted to rental housing for people earning 50 percent of the area median income. That's $25,800 per year for a single person. The ordinance also requires the units remain affordable for 30 years.
Any SRO building demolished and rebuilt within 18 months must also remain affordable for 30 years. And, if a fire or natural disaster makes the building unlivable, an SRO owner must contribute 75 percent of the building replacement cost to the city's SRO improvement and preservation fund.
The proposed ordinance also mandates an SRO owner gives residents, preservation developers and the city 180 days' notice, if building conversion, demolition or sale is planned. That provides ample chance for the latter groups to purchase the building.
Chicago For All joins ONE Northside, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, Northwest Side Housing Center, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Albany Park Neighborhood Council and the Alliance to End Homelessness in fighting for the ordinance.
Other partners include Housing Action Illinois and Metropolitan Tenants Organization as well as SEIU Illinois and Indiana.
Speaking of progress, Boyland said the movement will not be deterred if the city gets cold feet. ONE Northside, he said, will introduce a draft of the proposed SRO ordinance whether it has city support or not. He said Burnett made that very clear to the mayor's office.
"This isn't something we want to drag on," Boyland said.
SRO resident Robert Rohdenburg, who lives at Buffett Place ( the former Diplomat Hotel ), said the units gives many at-risk people a place to sleep. SRO units provide long-term housing to the working poor, senior citizens, disabled people and veterans, according to Rohdenburg.
"The SRO crisis is a growing problem," he said.
Rohdenburg once lived at the now-closed Chateau Hotel in Lakeview. For Burnett, confronting the SRO crisis is about more than tackling a housing problem. It's about putting the golden rule into practice.
"We need to be a humane society that helps everyone do well," Burnett said. "[We] need to come together to make sure people have a place to stay."
He pondered out loud about the timing of ONE Northside's press conference. Burnett acknowledge that it was no coincidence press conferences highlighting affordable housing, the minimum wage and sweat-free trade were held in succession.
Pawar echoed Burnett's sentiments.
"We can't be a city where's an island of wealth," Pawar said.
The Rev. Lois Parr, pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Lakeview, said she appreciated Burnett's call to be a more humane city. Parr is a ONE Northside board member and serves on its housing committee.
"We have a right to make it a city for everybody," she said.
Since it hasn't even been introduced, whether the ordinance rights a housing wrong is up in the air. SRO residents could be a more precarious position, when it lands on the city council floor. Boyland said the group is still brainstorming ideas to protect current SRO residents.
"Housing is very important to me. I grew up in affordable housing," he said. "I understand the need for affordable housing."