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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

The Lorali, A Former Uptown Single-Room Occupancy Hotel, Will Become 80 Market-Rate Apartments

The Lorali, empty since 2019, is the latest single-room occupancy building to be redeveloped into market-rate apartments in Uptown.

The former single-room-occupancy hotel known as the Lorali is undergoing a redevelopment into market-rate apartments.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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UPTOWN — A historical low-income hotel in Uptown is getting renovated into 80 apartments, the latest in a trend of single-room occupancy buildings being redeveloped in the neighborhood.

Work is underway to turn the Lorali building at 1039 W. Lawrence Ave. into Lawrence Lofts, a market-rate apartment complex with ground-floor retail space and modern amenities.

The project will convert the former 160-unit single-room occupancy hotel into 80 units that will be a mix of micro-studio apartments through two-bedrooms, developer Jim Stoller said. There will also be a rooftop deck, a dog park, bicycle parking, gym and 5,000 square feet of commercial space.

The interior renovation was granted a building permit in late August, allowing the start of a project that has been in the works since at least 2019. It is the latest single-room occupancy building in the neighborhood to be converted into apartments amid a larger struggle over affordable housing in Uptown.

The Lorali was built in 1926 as the Viceroy Hotel, which serviced the Uptown entertainment district in the Gilded Age.

Years later, the building was turned into a single-room occupancy hotel with tiny units rented on a daily or weekly basis at cheap rates to people who otherwise could face homelessness.

The building operated as a single-room occupancy until 2019, when a rezoning paved the way for a redevelopment into apartments. Residents of the building protested the move, saying they faced an uncertain housing situation if they were forced to leave The Lorali.

Stoller said the building was falling into disrepair, with many of its systems original to the protected building. The developer was a silent partner in the Lorali’s ownership group for years before buying the building outright in 2007, property records show.

A multi-million-dollar renovation was needed, and Stoller said he could not get public financing to keep the building affordable. He said city officials turned down requests for public financing because too much subsidized housing was already in the Uptown area.

“The problem was, it was a 100-year-old building that was functionally obsolete,” Stoller said. “I was looking at various options. Keeping it as [a single-room occupancy] didn’t make financial sense.”

Exterior renovations and interior demolition work has already been performed, Stoller said. Historically accurate windows are being added to the building’s second floor.

The first units in the new Lawrence Lofts building could be move-in ready early next year. Rents will range from about $1,300 for a studio to $2,500 for the larger two-bedrooms, Stoller said.

The redeveloped Lorali will have three affordable units, a spokesperson with the city’s Department of Housing said.

Previously, the building was zoned to house 48 units. The rezoning in 2019 permitted the addition of 32 more units for a total of 80. Under an affordable housing compact with the city, 10 percent of those newly allowed units in the building must be earmarked as affordable.

Stoller declined to comment on the project’s affordability component other than to say all affordable units will be included on site and that efforts are being made to welcome back former occupants.

Mike Breckenridge, tenant at the Darlington, stands with affordable housing advocates who are asking the city for more resources.

With the renovation, Uptown is losing another 180 single-room occupancy units on top of the hundreds of others that have already been redeveloped into trendy housing.

Last year, the former Wilson Men’s Hotel debuted as the 76-unit, upscale Wilson Club.

The Darlington, the former single-room occupancy building at 4700 N. Racine Ave., also recently underwent a renovation into a market-rate building with 48 apartments. The Hazelton Hotel was also redeveloped into 60 apartments, and more than 300 affordable units in the Lawrence House building were converted into apartments by prolific development firm Cedar Street.

The loss of single-room occupancy buildings comes amid a development wave in the neighborhood that has led to concerns over gentrification and displacement in Uptown.

Uptown still has at least five single-room occupancy buildings in operation, but those buildings are nearly full, said Tajuana Biloche, housing organizer with the Uptown-based ONE Northside. That leaves many people vulnerable to homelessness without access to such buildings, she said.

“We still have a few in Uptown,” Biloche said. “We’re fighting very hard to keep those preserved.”

City laws require there be a relocation plan for tenants of a single-room occupancy building that is slated for redevelopment.

Such efforts were successful when the Lorali was emptied in 2019, Stoller said. The city also requires some units be earmarked for former residents who want to return. That will be offered in this case, but it unclear how many may come back.

The developer said he doesn’t think preserving single-room occupancy buildings is the way to solve the city’s lack of affordable housing.

It’s cost-prohibitive to renovate the buildings while retaining their use, Stoller said. Plus, the facilities don’t have space for services and programs to help people vulnerable to homelessness, he said. New, affordable development is a better solution, he said.

“Taking a 100-year-old building and saying we have to keep it as low-income housing is never the solution,” Stoller said. “We should be building housing that suits people’s needs, helps people move forward, rather than just warehousing them.”

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