Gateway Studios tenants struggle

Champaign, Ill. — Just South of the I-74 interchange onto Neil Street in Champaign, Illinois stands the Gateway Studios apartments. Gateway Studios, once a home to over 100 working class residents, was condemned by the City of Champaign on May 12th forcing its tenants to search for alternative housing or risk living in their vehicles or on the street. At one time a hotel, Gateway Studios had been offering tenants weekly and monthly housing, featuring no leases and rent of $500-$600 per month which was highly competitive for the area. Gateway was condemned because of the owner’s (Donovan Acres, LLC of Tucson Arizona) inability to make utilities payments, owing over $44,000 in unpaid electric and gas bills. Utilities were supposed to be covered by the tenants rent payments. Most residents are employed, though some are disabled. Some working families with children called Gateway their home until the de facto eviction in the late afternoon of the 12th. Residents were informed on the 8th that utilities service would be discontinued. They were told at that time that gas service (which provided their hot water) would be cut on the 11th and electricity would go on the 12th. They were told that the city would immediately condemn the complex as unsafe for human habitation and that residents must find alternative housing immediately following the discontinuation of electric service.

Through no fault of their own and having paid rent to their landlord, which included utilities, 100 people were forced to vacate their residences. Donovan Acres failed to make payments, so 100 working class brothers and sisters must suffer, given only three days notification of discontinuation of their utilities and four days notice of an effective eviction. The Rental Property Utility Service Act, an Illinois State law, requires that utilities companies inform tenants of multi-family housing facilities at least ten days prior to service disconnects. AmerenIP, the utilities provider, claimed that Gateway was not an apartment complex and thus they were not required to comply with the act. Ameren informed the landlord of the discontinuation of service, and felt that this was sufficient action to remain in compliance with the law.

Randall Cotton, a local activist, attempted to introduce a Gateway resident to discuss his situation with the city council during a scheduled study session meeting on the evening of the 12th. Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart informed Cotton that he was out of order, having not given notice of his intent to discuss this issue with sufficient time to add it to the council’s agenda for the evening. When Cotton suggested that it only take a few minutes of the council’s time and that the matter was urgent, Schweighart stated “We’ve already gone over this, Randall. I don’t care!”

The Gateway Studios case is one of many playing out across the country during these harsh financial times. It is an example of the bureaucratic and officious nature of the class struggle. Our working class brothers and sisters can attempt to seek and hold jobs. They can attempt to raise and provide for their families. They can do everything expected of them, and still their wellbeing as well as that of their loved ones is at the mercy of a system that puts profit and property before human need.