DOUGLAS — Residents of two South Side affordable housing complexes operated by the same company rallied outside their landlord’s headquarters Monday, demanding better living conditions and urging action from the company’s CEO.
Tenants at the T.K. Lawless Gardens in Douglas and Germano-Millgate Apartments in South Chicago detailed concerns about their buildings at a news conference Monday outside East Lake Management headquarters, 2850 S. Michigan Ave.
T.K. Lawless Gardens has 746 units across three high-rises at 35th Street and Rhodes Avenue while Germano-Millgate has 350 apartments at 87th Street and Burley Avenue.
“Why are we being subjected to living as second-class citizens?” said Vonja Skinner, a Lawless Gardens resident of 25 years. “East Lake isn’t putting their money back into the units for repairs.”
The three high-rises at Lawless Gardens have failed 12 inspections this year and racked up 52 violations, with numerous citations for unsafe elevators, according to city records.
Block Club confirmed one elevator was operating without a posted license as of Monday, while another’s temporary license — issued “due to lack of compliance with all code requirements” — expired last month.
The Germano-Millgate complex failed one inspection this year, at 8712–8722 S. Burley Ave. Four logged violations included water damage, buckling tile and mildew in one apartment and a broken lock at the entrance.
But issues at the South Chicago complex go deeper than the buildings’ physical condition, longtime tenant council member Mery Mercado said. She said there are violent incidents inside the complex and she doesn’t trust on-site security to enforce rules fairly or maintain order.
“I send my kids away every summer because they can’t go to bed without … loud music and the parties,” she said.
Mercado also took photos and video of a flooded laundry room at Germano-Millgate from earlier this month, as well as what she said were mouse feces on bedding in the apartments.
The Metropolitan Tenants Organization received 58 unconfirmed complaints about living conditions at East Lake properties last year, second only to 85 complaints from Pangea tenants, Executive Director John Bartlett said. The organization and Alliance of the Southeast attended Monday’s action to support tenants.
“These are two buildings, but there are a lot of other East Lake buildings that are in equally poor conditions,” Bartlett said.
East Lake CEO Elzie Higginbottom, whose affordable housing developments include Park Shore East in Woodlawn and the former Washington Park YMCA, dismissed rallygoers’ allegations their living conditions reflect a pattern across his company’s buildings.
“I don’t believe those conditions exist throughout the building,” Higginbottom said. “There may be a service request that needs to be done, and if it isn’t, we’ll take care of it.”
Before the news conference, Higginbottom made an unexpected appearance, telling tenants and organizers their concerns could have been resolved with a call to his office.
“None of them have called and asked for me — they know who I am,” Higginbottom said.
Tenants disputed this claim, saying they’ve made numerous calls to Higginbottom’s secretary regarding repairs without receiving a response.
Following the conversation with Higginbottom, tenants went inside the East Lake offices and said they’ve scheduled a Tuesday morning meeting to continue discussing living conditions at the properties. They vowed to continue reaching out to neighbors and residents in other East Lake properties to expand their campaign.
“I’m coming [to the East Lake headquarters] every week until stuff gets taken care of,” Skinner said.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: