Uptown men’s hotel tenants continue fight for affordable housing
Michelle Zacarias/PW

CHICAGO—The Wilson Men’s Hotel, located at 1124 W. Wilson Ave. off the Red Line station, is being sold. Over a hundred of its tenants were served with a 60-day eviction notice this month. The establishment is a single room occupancy hotel located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, one of the few affordable housing options left in the area. The increasing popularity of the neighborhood has begun pushing poor and working-class residents farther out.

During a press conference last week, tenants of the hotel demanded that developer Andrew Ahitow cease his eviction of the residents and ensure tenants remain a key part of negotiating the relocation process. Several tenants are claiming that the eviction is retaliatory for the repeated complaints filed with the Department of Buildings over the living conditions. Reports of no running water in the bathrooms, inconsistent heating, and exposure to asbestos in the walls, were frequent. According to residents of the building, conditions on the property have become increasingly unlivable in recent decades.

As a response to the outcry over the property being sold, City Pads made attempts to offer resources for alternative housing. A flyer on the community bulletin board notifies tenants of the available “transition team” that is scheduled to meet with individual tenants and explore their housing futures. Many of the tenants are saying, however, that the housing choices offered were in many cases too expensive or substandard.

Chairman of the tenant association for the building, Tommie Hannah, and resident of Wilson Men’s Hotel, says that despite being in constant communication with the alderman’s office, and with city and state representatives, the response to their concerns has been lackluster at best. “This [transitional] office needs to be closed, since they don’t have a transitional plan, they don’t have a structure—so how can they possibly help me transition to affordable subsidized housing?”

Hannah also states that the focus needs to remain with the tenants on holding City Pads accountable for violating the preservation ordinance. The press release from the tenants association indicates that Tenants of Wilson Men’s Hotel have demanded a binding commitment from City Pads LLC (owned by Ahitow) for the right to remain in affordable, long-term housing on the Northside. They have demanded a full relocation plan, which Ahitow offered when he first purchased the building. According to the press statement, Ahitow ultimately refused to collaborate with tenants or ONE Northside, a community organizing group working with tenants, and has shown no evidence of moving forward on a viable relocation plan for all tenants.

In the meantime, tenants of the building continue to reside in inhumane conditions. James Duirei has lived at the hotel for about two years: “We’ve got flooding, toilets backing up, we have people coming in and drilling holes in the ceiling, exposing us to whatever happens to be in the building—they don’t care.”

The property has historically held a track record of not meeting the city’s building code standards and according to public records the hotel has failed more than two dozen building inspections since the 1990s, including four consecutive inspections in 2016 and 2017.

The eviction from the hotel is just another contributing factor to the ongoing gentrification happening in Uptown. In the past decade the neighborhood’s demographic has drastically changed, leaving many low-income Chicagoans at a disadvantage. The white population has increased from 42 percent to nearly 54 percent of the population, bringing with them the increasing construction of luxury condo developments and rising property values. Additionally, James Cappleman, alderman of the 46th ward in Uptown, made the news last summer after forcefully evicting the longstanding homeless community “Tent City” from the neighborhood.

Now more Uptown residents may be facing homelessness with the last affordable housing options diminishing. “They only have a mandate to get us out as soon as possible, but what does that do for us if you don’t have viable options, as an alternative to being here?” says Hannah.

Though the clock is ticking, tenants of the Wilson Men’s Hotel, alongside ONE Northside, continue to fight for their right to affordable housing. Hannah says that this can only be done with the help of a united community: “We’re looking for the city to take a much more proactive role. We can’t do this on our own.”

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CONTRIBUTOR

Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias is a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias has invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. She has written and conducted research in several parts of the world; most recently Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where she presented on disability awareness at the U.S. Consulate. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities. She considers her experiences a privilege, one that she hopes to use as a platform for spreading socio-political consciousness. In her spare time Michelle enjoys drinking pricey wines and watching old school zombie flicks.  

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