Shortly before the Chicago City Council on July 30 approved, without discussion, a resolution temporarily banning the conversion and demolition of Single Room Occupancy ( SRO ) buildings, activists, housing advocates and city officials gathered outside the Council's chambers to lend their support to the measure and call attention to the need for more affordable housing in the city.
The resolution, backed by Mayor Emanuel, puts into place a six-month moratorium on permits that even partially reduce the number of units in an SRO. It was applauded July 30 by members of Chicago for All Coalition, which is headed by the organization ONE Northside.
"The moratorium is just one step along the way to a more long-term solution," said Norman Kaseberg of ONE Northside, adding that the coalition is aiming for a new, more comprehensive ordinance in September.
"Since 2008, 30 of the city's licensed SROs closed, and only five to six thousand units of housing remain," said Felicia Davis, Department of Buildings Commissioner. "There are 73 licensed SRO's throughout the city. In the past three years, at least four SRO Hotels closed, including the Belair Hotel, Sheffield House, and the Chateau Hotel, leaving close to 600 residents displaced and with very limited other reliable housing options. The moratorium ordinance is valid to stem displacement of Chicago's most vulnerable residents while a more permanent and sound solution is worked on and put in place."
The city will "take stock and try to work with property owners, developers, non-profit organizations and advocates while we evaluate all sides," she added, noting that
her department will continue to issue work permits to maintain and upgrade existing units.
Fred Bartels, who has lived at the Milshire Hotel in Logan Square since 2007, said the hotel gave him an affordable option for living in a safe neighborhood, close to public transportation: "Rents are getting so high in Chicago right now, that, without the Milshire, I would have been out on the street." The hotel's residents have been battling eviction notices that were sent out this past spring.
Ald. Walter Burnett, one of the lead sponsors of the resolution, added, "We're not against developmentwe're against displacement. This organization may be called 'ONE Northside,' but we're all about 'One Chicago.' We're here to make sure all Chicago has a a decent place to live and a decent place to stay."
Burnett later told Windy City Times that of paramount importance was ensuring that current residents can stay where they are, and in livable conditions: "The mayor has a lot of people working on this right now. We need to make [the SRO's] humane and decent, for people to live in safely."
Among those also attending the press conference were Ald. Ameya Pawar and Ald. Michele Smith.
The resolution passed the council unanimously. Though Ald. James Cappleman was critical of the resolution at last week's meeting of the council's housing committee, he this week voted in its favor.