HUMBOLDT PARK — Residents of a Section 8 building at the mouth of Paseo Boricua are taking a stand against their landlord who has decided to quit the rental assistance program.
The residents of 2815-2821 W. Division St., many of them elderly and Spanish-speaking, are calling on landlord Amir Syed to renew the Section 8 contract so they can stay in their homes. The Section 8 program allows landlords to subsidize rents in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
They’re also pushing to keep the building affordable longterm under a state law, called the Illinois Federally Assisted Housing Preservation Act.
The law gives tenants the power to buy a building in partnership with a developer with the goal of keeping a building affordable.
According to the Sun-Times, no tenant group has ever reached such a deal under the state law, but the Humboldt Park tenants could be close.
“We already have one affordable housing developer who called me who is very, very interested in keeping the building affordable,” Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) said at a Wednesday morning press conference in front of the building.
‘It’s not just for us’
The tenants first learned about Syed’s plans in April.
“I was really in shock in the beginning,” said resident Maribett Martinez, who has lived in the building for nearly 25 years.
Martinez said things started to feel real once she and her neighbors formed the Division Street Rehab Tenant Association, partnered with local housing groups like the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and Grassroots Illinois Action and pledged to fight back.
“Nobody wants to move. We’ve been here for so long,” Martinez said.
Martinez said her $600-per-month, two-bedroom apartment is the only home her two sons, now 24 and 22, have ever known.
“There’s a lot of memories in these walls of my mom, my brother, my children that I’m not ready to leave. When you die, that’s fine, I’ll be ready to leave it then. But not now,” she said.
Grassroots Illinois Action believes the situation is a matter of “cruel displacement of our families in the name of profit.”
“The property owner has also refused to make needed repairs to the building, requested by the tenants now residing there, and is refusing to make those repairs until he turns the building into market rate housing,” the group said in a written statement.
Syed didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but his lawyer, Bonnie Varner, said the building itself is tied to the Section 8 project-based voucher program and Syed is looking to drop that designation so it’s a market-rate building housing Section 8 voucher holders.
“The units will be market-rate but the tenants have an absolute right to retain a voucher at that property,” Varner said.
Varner also said tying the vouchers to the individuals, rather than the building, is better for the residents because then they have the option of moving elsewhere and won’t be tied to one specific building.
But the change would put the onus on residents to apply for a voucher, and there’s a concern that if someone isn’t savvy enough to complete the process successfully, they would be looking at a rent hike that would force them to move.
So the residents and their advocates argue the building itself should stay affordable.
In recent years, Humboldt Park has seen its property values soar in part thanks to The 606’s Bloomingdale Trail.
“Being told to uproot from your home is beyond stressful,” 24-year-old resident Andriana Vera said at the press conference.
“Most of these residents don’t know how to navigate Trulia or Redfin, let alone afford those apartments.”
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.