EDGEWATER — When eviction notices were handed out in August to residents at the Foswyn Arms single-room occupancy building in Edgewater, one resident’s first thought was: not again.
The resident, who asked not to be named in this story because they are still living in the building, had lived in the four-story complex owned by Cedar Realty for just over three years when the eviction notices were handed down. The prospect of finding new housing would be daunting, they said, because it’s already happened twice before.
“This is not the first time it’s happened,” the resident said. “This is actually my third time. It’s not too nice, especially in the winter.”
In the two other cases, the resident had been living in single-room occupancy (or SRO) buildings owned by Cedar Realty. It is now their third time being evicted by the same landlord, they said.
Now, Cedar Realty is planning to convert the Foswyn Arms building, 5240 N. Winthrop Ave., from 88 units to 61 SRO units, according to city building permit records. Doing so would require the eviction of its tenants, many of whom are on fixed income and have disabilities and other medical issues, residents and housing advocates said.
Local elected officials and housing advocates have rallied to the Foswyn Arms’ tenants’ cause. The help has kept residents from being pushed out into the street, they said, but the situation is far from resolved.
As of this week, 11 residents remain in the building, one current tenant and one former tenant said. That’s despite multiple deadlines to leave, with one more looming on Friday, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Tribune reported last week that remaining residents had until Friday to leave. That deadline was confirmed by the resident, though they said that it would likely not be enforced, since previous deadlines have come and gone.
The first eviction notice came down in mid-August, with a 30-day deadline to leave, the two residents said. But that was not enforced after city attorneys and advocates stepped in, said Curt Urynowicz, who lived in the Foswyn Arms building at the time and was the liaison between tenants and building management.
“I basically tore that 30-day notice up and threw it into the trash,” Urynowicz said. “There are people with severe disabilities and they need help packing up. People of that caliber, to move within 30 days, it’s just … not possible.”
Not only do most residents of SRO’s have physical or financial limitations that making moving difficult, but the number of affordable, SRO-type buildings in Chicago is dwindling.
From 2014 through 2018, the number of SRO buildings in Chicago went from 81 to 66, the Tribune reported in 2018. The problem is particularly acute in Uptown and Edgewater, where gentrification and luxury development have made local SRO’s a target of developers and investors.
The dwindling number of SRO’s comes despite a 2014 city ordinance that sought to preserve them. Among other requirements, the ordinance stipulates that landlords asking SRO tenants to leave must help with a relocation plan, provide a transition team for relocation, and give each resident $2,000 to help them move.
Some of those mandated services have not come through at Foswyn Arms, the residents said. Cedar Realty provided two alternative buildings for residents to live in, and waived the move-in fee for those residents. Urynowicz took Cedar up on the offer to live in one of those two buildings, he said.
The required $2,000 has been dangled over the remaining residents’ heads, Urnowicz and the other resident said. Both sources said that building management told existing residents that, if they were not out by Friday, they would not receive their $2,000 relocation assistance, a move that would not comply with the city’s ordinance.
“He’s just barely complied with the ordinance,” Urynowicz said of Cedar Realty Principal David Labunski. “He’s done minimal work to help find new places for us.”
Labunski told Block Club Chicago that Cedar Realty does not own Foswyn Arms, and that he does not own it personally. That is despite two residents naming Labunski as the landlord, and Cook County property records that show Cedar Realty as controlling the property.
The Foswyn Arms building was bought through a trust for $1.8 million in 2012. Trusts are used to shield the buyer’s identity in public records, but the deed for the property lists Cedar Realty as the recipient of the building’s tax bills. Further, a county document transferring responsibility of the building’s outstanding mortgage from a bank to the trust was signed by Labunski.
The remaining tenants are resigned to the fact that they have to move out, the resident said. One resident said they are looking at a couple of locations, but a move to either would require getting a storage facility, or getting rid of a lot of belongings.
“I’m trying to find the best situation for me,” they said.
Urynowicz said he is hoping that building management and housing advocates can help the remaining residents find new housing.
“With the threat of eviction looming over, it’s pretty scary,” he said.
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