UPTOWN — Uptown’s newest apartment building has opened inside the former Wilson Men’s Hotel, ending a four-year effort to convert the single-room occupancy building into trendy micro-apartments amid a broader tug-of-war over affordable housing in the neighborhood.
The Wilson Club, as it is now called, opened to residents in June.
After 80 years as the Wilson Men’s Hotel, the building at 1124 W. Wilson Ave. is the latest Uptown building to be turned into apartments targeting young residents. The redevelopment became a rallying point for those fighting gentrification in the neighborhood.
But developer Andrew Ahitow — co-founder and CEO of City Pads, which bought the building in 2017 — said the Wilson Club is different from previous redevelopments because of the number of affordable units provided and because some of the former hotel residents will move back.
The Wilson Club has 76 units, with 24 of them — or about 30 percent — listed as affordable, Ahitow said. Of the affordable units, half are earmarked for those making no more than 15 percent of the area median income, while the other half is for those making no more than 30 percent of the area median income.
The units are 250-350 square feet, with market-rate units averaging $1,250 in monthly rent. Affordable units will rent for about $500 or less, Ahitow said.
Under city laws regulating the redevelopment of single-room occupancy buildings, City Pads had to offer former Wilson Men’s Hotel residents first right of refusal to the renovated affordable units. So far, eight former residents plan to move back into the building, Ahitow said.
Unlike the men’s hotel, the apartments have in-unit kitchenettes, bathrooms and washers and dryers. The building also includes a co-working space, recreation room and bike storage. The renovated lobby has a refurbished elevator car that was salvaged from the building’s basement.
“I’m passionate about renovating and reusing old structures, and these projects are getting harder and harder to find,” Ahitow said. “I think the building turned out beautifully.”
About 2,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space is waiting for a retailer. The space is designed for one user, possibly a cafe or pizza shop, Ahitow said. Previously, the Wilson Men’s Club had two storefronts that most recently housed a cellphone store and tax office.
The Wilson Men’s Hotel was built in 1914 as a commercial building and turned into a residential facility in the 1930s, said City Pads spokesperson Clint Sabin. It operated as a single-room occupancy for much of its run.
When City Pads bought the building for $3 million, it sparked a preservation effort among residents who wanted to stay put and affordable housing activists who said such buildings were rapidly disappearing in Uptown.
Some said the building represented one of the few remaining affordable housing complexes in a changing Uptown. The $80 weekly rent kept many of its residents off the streets, they said.
Residents held rallies and sought help from city officials to ensure they were not displaced. Others lamented that they would likely have to leave Uptown.
For others, the project was a step in the right direction for a century-old building that had fallen into disrepair.
Uptown neighbors had for years complained about the men’s hotel, DNAinfo reported in 2012. The building had failed more than two dozen building inspections since the ’90s, and neighbors and hotel property managers complained about loitering near the premises.
There were also problems with the building’s upkeep. Some of the roof was being held up by chicken wire that was exposed to individual rooms. Bedbugs were rampant, and half of the building’s shared bathrooms were not working in its later years as a men’s hotel.
New uses for the building were already being considered for the building before City Pads bought it.
In 2012, the then-owner enlisted an architecture firm to do a study of the building’s vitality and potential for other uses. The study was spurred by community concerns and the upcoming rebuilding of the Wilson Red Line station, which would make the building more attractive to investors.
City Pads spent $100,000 to bring the building up to code while relocating the 150 residents, Ahitow said. City laws state a developer overhauling a single-room occupancy building must find and help pay for new housing for the building’s residents. The relocations took about two years to complete, Ahitow said.
The only features salvaged from the original building were the exterior walls and interior staircase, Ahitow said.
Since City Pads took over the former men’s hotel, single-room occupancy units have become even rarer in Uptown.
City Pads also recently unveiled another apartment building that was formerly a single-room occupancy center at 851 W. Montrose Ave. Affordable hotels The Lorali, 1039 W. Lawrence Ave., and the Darlington, 4700 N. Racine Ave., have been also recently been redeveloped.
“Finding an affordable housing solution in Uptown is nearly impossible these days,” Jon Adams, a former resident of the Wilson Men’s Hotel, told Block Club in 2019. “That needs to change.”
Ahitow said the overhaul of the Wilson Men’s Hotel is in many cases the best path forward for single-room occupancy buildings that have not had investment in decades and are not likely to be bailed out by local governments.
Renovating the structure into mixed-income residences preserves a century-old building while retaining some affordability, he said.
“Having everyone in the same building, that makes for the best kind of housing and the best kind of neighborhood,” Ahitow said. “Allowing more people into the neighborhood is good.”
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