KENWOOD — The owner of a troubled South Side affordable apartment building will bring on new management after more than a year of refusing to do so, and residents say they’re cautiously hopeful the move will improve their living conditions.
5T Management — which city attorneys have praised for its experience managing troubled buildings — will take over effective Friday morning at the Ellis Lakeview Apartments, 4624 S. Ellis Ave. in Kenwood.
5T is 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 will replace Integra Affordable Management, which oversaw the building as it failed 27 city inspections and racked up 158 code violations.
Ellis Lakeview owner Apex Chicago IL must remove Integra in favor of 5T, Cook County Judge Lisa Marino ruled Thursday. As a result, city attorneys dropped their petition to put the building into receivership, which would’ve brought in a third party to take ownership and oversee needed repairs.
The city may still push for receivership if Apex violates its agreement with 5T, according to a draft of the court order presented at Thursday’s hearing.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development demanded Integra’s removal 15 months ago, citing the company’s failure to provide “decent, safe and sanitary housing,” but Apex refused. Federal housing officials also cited Integra for mismanaging finances and tenant files.
Some Ellis Lakeview residents, who have organized for better living conditions since September 2020, tuned in to eight-plus hours of court hearings last week as well as Thursday’s two-hour hearing.
Though residents said they will wait to see 5T’s work before claiming a total success, they celebrated “a victory in having a stable management company” take over this week.
Ashley Salibellas lives in a first-floor apartment, where she’s experienced water damage and suspected mold. Integra retaliated against her in 2020 for complaining to the city by denying her a gate key to the building’s parking lot, she said at the time.
Salibellas attended all four virtual hearings over the past two weeks, even as she struggled with technology issues tuning into one hearing from a city bus, and tended to her daughter’s needs during another.
Those interruptions meant Salibellas missed the discussion over 5T’s ability to manage Ellis Lakeview — but in any case, “Integra getting kicked out is a good thing,” she said.
“I’m not sure what’s [5T’s] reputation on things, but I pray that they’re better than Integra,” Salibellas said.
A resident, Karen, who requested Block Club only use her first name, said she’s “very anxious and excited about the changes.”
Karen complained of a broken elevator, trash piling up several stories and vermin infestations in 2020. Now, she’s raising concerns over building security, unfinished repairs and suspected mold in her apartment.
5T has presented an action plan Karen trusts will address her and her neighbors’ concerns, she said.
“I honestly feel like things will improve,” Karen said. 5T seems “to be a professional company and experienced with turning buildings around.”
Karen attended all four recent hearings despite starting a new job; she had to “have an AirPod in one ear” listening to the hearings as she completed work tasks at the same time, she said.
Despite Karen’s hopefulness, she criticized the months of receivership hearings dating back to August as “an up-and-down rollercoaster.”
At times, Karen felt “disrespected and helpless,” believing the attorneys’ arguments held more sway than the input of residents who had to live with the building’s often hazardous conditions, she said.
“I didn’t realize the system was so messed up,” Karen said.
Karen and Salibellas said they’d remain active with the Ellis Lakeview tenant’s association, regardless of whether 5T solves the laundry list of issues with the building.
If 5T gets the building back into good shape, “I plan on still being a member so [Apex knows] I’m a part of something bigger than me,” Salibellas said.
Salibellas urged other renters living in squalid conditions to “fight, fight, fight, because at the end it’s going to be a victory,” she said.
“We got this far because of our organizing — our constantly sending [housing organizers] pictures and our constantly reaching out to national housing compliance,” Salibellas said. “We got this far, not because of management, but because we said enough is enough.”
If Apex or 5T prove not to be up to the task of restoring Ellis Lakeview, they can expect a continued fight from the residents, Karen said.
“We’re not settling for anything,” Karen said. “We deserve decent housing.”
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