The Ellis Lakeview apartment building, 4624 S. Ellis Ave. in Kenwood. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

KENWOOD — The property manager of a troubled Kenwood affordable apartment building will be replaced, as key repairs remain unfinished and residents continue to raise safety concerns nearly two years after they first organized for better living conditions.

Tenants at the Ellis Lakeview Apartments, 4624 S. Ellis Ave., have demanded owner Apex Chicago IL resolve plumbing issues, pest infestations, security breaches and other problems since September 2020.

Apex bought Ellis Lakeview for $10.75 million in August 2019, according to Chicago Cityscape. The building failed 27 city inspections and racked up 158 code violations under Apex and property manager Integra Affordable Management’s watch.

But as city officials pushed to have Apex ousted and the building put into receivership, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Marino ruled Integra would be replaced as property manager after multiple hearings this week.

5T Management is likely to take over for Integra sometime in the next week, tasked with solving numerous issues related to the building’s security, plumbing, roof, elevators, missing smoke detectors, emergency lighting, drywall, windows, a vacant apartment contaminated with asbestos and more.

The company has experience managing troubled buildings, as they helped keep at least four properties affordable when the properties were at risk of losing their federal subsidies, city attorney Steven McKenzie said Thursday.

5T also successfully managed some Better Housing Foundation properties while the foundation was mired in lawsuits, McKenzie said.

The Better Housing Foundation was the subject of a 2018 Tribune investigation, which found conditions at 64 of the foundation’s 81 Chicago properties were so bad the Chicago Housing Authority forbade its aid recipients from living there. Tax filings and county-level records show ties between Apex and the foundation.

Apex and 5T plan to “hammer out a final contractual agreement” soon after Thursday’s court hearing, “and as soon as we can get it executed we’d be ready” to begin work at Ellis Lakeview, 5T president Steve Thomas said.

That agreement will likely require Apex to transfer its federal housing subsidies to 5T, which will then pay for utilities, payroll and other operating costs, Thomas said.

Apex receives about $1.4 million annually in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidies when Ellis Lakeview is fully occupied, HUD attorney Erin Gard said Wednesday.

Apex would also pay 5T to catch up on “deferred maintenance” — the plumbing, electrical and other upkeep concerns raised over months of court hearings, Thomas said.

“We will be … expeditiously getting that work taken care of,” Thomas said. “We will have a team working on vacant units, we’ll have a team working on occupied units — I got no indication that there will be any resistance or lag” from Apex.

Though Apex officials wanted to consider hiring a management company with cheaper rates that could manage all their properties across six states, 5T will take over at Ellis Lakeview as soon as a contract is signed, attorney Joshua Kahane said.

Apex “had plenty of opportunity to be completely in control of who was managing the building,” Judge Marino said in response to Kahane’s request to replace Integra with a different company.

Attorneys are due back in court again on June 9 to confirm an agreement is in place and outline a path forward.

Federal housing officials demanded Integra’s removal 15 months ago, citing the company’s failure to provide “decent, safe and sanitary housing,” but Apex refused. HUD has also cited the management company for mismanaging finances and tenant files.

Given the management change, Marino held off on deciding about the city’s request to place Ellis Lakeview into receivership.

After court-ordered repairs moved slowly or stalled for months, city attorneys asked Marino in late April to appoint Community Initiatives, Inc. as a general receiver.

Under that request, Community Initiatives — which partners with the city to administer the Troubled Buildings Initiative — would take over ownership of Ellis Lakeview. 5T Management would also be the property manager under the request.

Apex’s promises to support 5T as it quickly makes the needed improvements “go a long way” toward removing the need for a receiver, McKenzie said. Marino could still order Ellis Lakeview into receivership if Apex leaders go back on their word and hinders 5T’s efforts to improve building conditions.

Ellis Lakeview resident Nadrea Satchell holds a sign reading, “Mice and vermin live rent free at Ellis Lakeview” during a December 2021 press conference. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

Rep. Bobby Rush, state Sen. Robert Peters, state Rep. Curtis Tarver and Ald. Sophia King (4th) are among the elected officials who have supported tenants’ demands for better living conditions.

Peters and a staffer with King’s office testified during this week’s three hearings.

Ellis Lakeview residents and city inspectors also testified at the hearings, which took about eight hours in total from Tuesday-Thursday. Apex called no witnesses.

“The only thing I ask you today is if you can make a decision for us to be safe, and to put this place into some responsible hands that want to do right by the tenants and their children,” resident Tamashay Brown told the judge at Tuesday’s hearing.

Despite the slow progress of repairs, Apex appears set to hold onto its Ellis Lakeview property — as long as it holds up its end of any agreement signed with 5T Management.

Apex “shouldn’t be punished, because now they’re doing the right thing,” Kahane said Wednesday. “… The fact that the [company] in August of last year didn’t act appropriately, does not negate the fact that they now are.”

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