Eric Sirota, an attorney with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, stands with tenants and tenant advocates outside the Ellis Lakeview apartment building at a March 2021 rally. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

KENWOOD — City attorneys want a judge to oust the owner of a troubled affordable apartment building in Kenwood, and federal housing officials are supporting the city’s request to put the apartments into receivership to address a litany of complaints.

Residents at Ellis Lakeview, an affordable housing tower at 4624 S. Ellis Ave., have demanded owner Apex Chicago IL resolve plumbing issues, pest infestations and other problems since September 2020.

Apex bought Ellis Lakeview for $10.75 million in August 2019, according to Chicago Cityscape. The building has failed 27 city inspections and racked up 158 code violations under Apex and property manager Integra Affordable Management’s watch.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has cited Apex and Integra for failing to provide “decent, safe and sanitary housing” and for mismanaging finances and tenant files.

Despite months of court orders for Apex and Integra to repair key systems and address quality of life issues at Ellis Lakeview, the situation “is getting imminently much, much worse,” city attorney Steven McKenzie said at a court hearing Tuesday.

City attorneys asked Judge Lisa Marino on April 26 to appoint Community Initiatives, Inc. as a general receiver. Community Initiatives, which partners with the city to administer the Troubled Buildings Initiative, would take over ownership and management of Ellis Lakeview from Apex and Integra if receivership is approved.

Among the reasons for requesting receivership, city lawyers say:

  • Apex and Integra have repeatedly failed to provide adequate hot water.
  • The building has no on-site building manager, after the previous manager left their position last month. Retaining staff has been a challenge at Ellis Lakeview, as the building saw four managers in 2020, residents said.
  • Security is inadequate, including broken front doors and gates to the property, which has led to non-residents sleeping in the laundry room and “wandering the exterior and interior” at night.
  • The building requires electrical repairs and upgrades to its fire safety system.

“It’s not just that things have stopped — it’s going backwards,” McKenzie said at Tuesday’s hearing.

The Ellis Lakeview apartment building, 4624 S. Ellis Ave. in Kenwood. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

Court-ordered plumbing work in the building has stalled in recent weeks after plumbers twice stopped working at the site, residents said.

Tenants and tenant organizers said plumbers walked off the job because Apex and Integra failed to pay, while an Integra representative blamed the holdup on a contract dispute.

Plumbing risers remain in disrepair through about half the building, city inspector Manny Lopez said. That necessary project could have been completed or mostly done by now if not for the work stoppages, he said.

“A lot of the units I went to inspect were ones I originally said were OK, and now they’re not,” he said. “All these shower valves, faucets [and] toilets that were working are going to not work sooner or later, and it’s starting to show.”

There are no “dangerous and hazardous conditions” as of a late-April inspection, but low hot water pressure and “unsanitary conditions” are still prevalent throughout the building, Lopez said.

Apex was made aware of problems with Ellis Lakeview’s water system as early as November 2020, federal housing officials said last year.

“We’re in dire straits here,” Marino told Integra Affordable Management’s safety and building operations manager, who was only identified as Natalie. “You have workers that are pulling off not once, but more than once, so obviously things are not going the way they need to be going.”

The manager confirmed plumbing work stopped due to a financial disagreement, but “we have plans to get them back” to work, she said. She did not give an estimated date for when the plumbing repairs would resume.

Though there’s no permit for electrical work at the building, the owners have allowed untrained and unlicensed maintenance staff to make some electrical repairs, city inspector Thomas Lynch said. The building operations manager confirmed Integra has not hired a licensed electrical contractor.

“It’s not that Apex is trying their best to comply,” said Eric Sirota, an attorney from the Shriver Center on Poverty Law representing the Ellis Lakeview tenants’ association. “They categorically did not follow the last [court] order.”

Non-residents have violently attacked Ellis Lakeview tenants due to security breaches, Sirota said. A front door has not been properly secured since December, he said; and in January, residents said a gate to the property’s parking lot had been broken months earlier.

The Integra manager initially blamed tenants for breaking the front door “every time we fix” it, before walking back her comments during the hearing and acknowledging the owner’s responsibility to maintain security.

“It is very frustrating — we’re doing everything we can,” she said. “We’re hoping to move to a key fob system in the near future.”

There are also smoke detectors throughout the building which are either expired or missing and must be replaced, fire inspector Bob Steffens said.

The owners have faiIed to pay for water service since February and have racked up $19,475 in past-due bills, putting the building at risk of a water shutoff, McKenzie said.

The building was issued a gas shutoff notice Friday after racking up more than $4,000 in past-due bills, though that debt has since been paid, the Integra manager said.

Given the living conditions at Ellis Lakeview, Housing and Development “is fully in support” of appointing a receiver, attorney Erin Gard said at the hearing.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, state Sen. Robert Peters and Ald. Sophia King (4th) are among the elected officials who have supported tenants’ calls for receivership since last summer. Peters spoke in support of the residents and decried the building’s management at Tuesday’s hearing.

Marino did not rule on the city’s petition to replace Apex and Integra with Community Initiatives.

Scott Nehls, who has served as Apex and Integra’s attorney in past hearings, withdrew from the case Tuesday. Because of his withdrawal, the companies will receive a break in the proceedings as they bring on legal counsel.

Apex and Integra will have new attorneys by the end of the week, said S. Joshua Kahane, a Tennessee-based attorney who attended the hearing at the building owner’s request. Kahane did not officially represent the companies as of Tuesday.

The next hearing is scheduled for May 31, when Marino is expected to rule on the city’s request for receivership.

The companies are “getting somewhat of a reprieve” with the month-long break between hearings, Marino said.

“There is some time here, through which goodwill could be attempted to be shown — if there is any left,” she said.

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