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Roseland, Pullman

West Pullman School Converted To Senior Housing Has Become Unsafe, Some Residents Say — But Developer Says He’s Fixing Issues

Residents at the West Pullman School Senior Community say they're fed up with persistent security lapses and mismanagement. The apartments are inside a converted former school building.

West Pullman School Senior Community. The former elementary school features 60 apartments for seniors.
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WEST PULLMAN — A Far South Side senior housing building lauded for its transformation from a shuttered school has been plagued by drug sales, robberies, trash building up and other issues — and management isn’t doing enough to help, some residents say.

Tenants fearing for their safety at West Pullman School Senior Community, 11941 S. Parnell Ave., have created a petition, and tried contacting police and politicians for help with little response, some said.

Calvin Lewis, who’s lived in the building since it opened, patrols the building daily and has seen non-residents, including people banned from the premises, coming into the property. Some tenants worry about leaving their apartments to empty trash or do laundry because there have been robberies, he said.

“I don’t want to see nothing happen to nobody,” Lewis said. “Just the other night, I found a gentleman down there … locked up in the laundry room. He’d taken a hat and covered up the camera down there. This wasn’t the first time that I caught him down there.”

Lewis said police were recently called to the building after a resident let in someone who’d been banned. Management was not at the building at the time, Lewis said.

The former elementary school, closed in 2013 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was rehabbed by developer Scott Henry’s Celadon Partners and UrbanWorks into senior housing in 2019. The renovation recently won a preservation award.

Henry said there were security issues and management failures in the past, but he and his team have worked to address them and plan to do a full security analysis. Some residents remain unhappy and are riling up others, he said.

There was a “productive” meeting last week among Henry, the previous management team, the new property management team, police officers and residents, Henry said. The attendees discussed residents’ concerns and potential solutions, though there may still be issues to work through, he said.

“There are agitators out there that may be saying things about the property, that may have their own motivations for saying those things,” Henry said. “But it’s not really indicative of the truth.

“What you have here is an owner and a developer that really cares about this project … and [who is] committed [to addressing] the issues that are here now and is committed to this property for the long term.”

West Pullman’s building management that handled day-to-day conditions — like trash pickup and security — hasn’t helped the situation, resident Arnold Julien said. He said the facility’s conditions have made it “unsafe.”

“They watch people do criminal activity, and they do nothing,” Julien said. “But when rent is due, don’t be late.”

Credit: Provided/Arnold Julien
Trash is piled up in a West Pullman senior housing building.

The management team let go of a janitor, which is what led to trash building up, Henry said. It also had a staff member who was responsible for the facility’s office being unsupervised, which led to some of the problems, he said.

Henry said West Pullman has stopped working with that management company, and he’s finalizing an agreement with a new management company, Realty and Mortgage Company. Henry said they had to wait to make the switch because they needed an investor’s approval.

Henry said there was an issue last year with nonresidents getting into the building. He temporarily hired more nighttime security, and the facility’s staff educated residents about rules — like not propping open doors — which stopped the problem, Henry said. The additional security is no longer being used, he said.

The facility is working with its security company to get a guard posted at the property, and its officials will soon do a “comprehensive security review” with a third party to see what security issues there are and to get recommendations about how to fix those, Henry said.

The facility also evicted tenants who had intentionally let in unauthorized people, Henry said.

“We explained that you know what the building rules are,” he said. “Through that education process, that took care of a lot of the problems. The other folks that were intentionally doing it for nefarious reasons, were — to my knowledge; it’s been a year ago — but I believe they were evicted.”

The pandemic also might have exacerbated issues, as problematic tenants couldn’t be evicted, Henry said. The previous management company tried its hardest during a tough time, but there was more that could have been done to handle issues at the facility, he said.

Lewis said he still sees banned people sleeping in the complex, however. Julien also said the issues continue, though he thinks they are largely caused by people who are banned but still gain access and a few “problem units.”

Henry, a Roseland native, said he and the new management team are working on additional solutions to prevent future problems, like replacing locks on doors to doors with key fobs. There will be more meetings with residents to address ongoing concerns, he said.

Some residents said they think there should be 24-hour security, secured doors and the creation of another entrance so residents can get in easier and more safely, Julien said. Beyond security, Lewis said some residents want access to the former school’s gymnasium and auditorium because it would give them more things to do.

“Together, we win. We’ve been together as a building,” Julien said. “So I think that’s important for for people to know that we can no longer take this and we will only be able to get the things that we’re looking for together.”

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