Tenants at the multi-unit Ellis Lakeview Apartments, 4624 S. Ellis Ave., held a press conference outside their property in Kenwood on Wednesday asking for new ownership, alleging that the current owner and property manager have “severely neglected” the building.
The 110-unit, 11-floor building is owned by Apex Chicago, which acquired it in 2019, and managed by Integra Affordable Management. Residents formed a tenants’ association last year to fight against what they claim are unlivable conditions in the building, including problems with mold, access to hot water and garbage collection.
Arlinda Brown, a resident for three years, said that there’s a rodent infestation in the building, as well as build-up of garbage. “There’s rodents running around all in your house. Trash is everywhere — it’s just, it’s horrible,” she said. “We are really in a danger zone right now, and it’s very bad …. People’s children are getting sick in this mold, all type of stuff.”
Apex has a contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide Section 8 housing at Ellis Lakeview. Tonnett Hammond, chair of the tenants’ association at Ellis Lakeview, said that residents are calling for the government to terminate its agreement with the company and find new ownership to continue providing Section 8 housing.
“The building needs to be rehabbed. And we need owners that are actually capable of doing the job and not running a scam non-for-profit organization that profits off of low-income tenants,” she said. “We have worked tirelessly for months to see that tenants and their families can live safely in this building. This building has poor ventilation and mold. Something needs to be done now.”
According to Department of Buildings records, the building has failed 17 of its last 18 inspections, dating back to 2019. Violations listed include a mouse infestation, no working smoke detectors and a failure to maintain the building’s elevators.
The DOB records also show that there have been several administrative hearings for the building in recent years, though it lists no active court cases for housing violations.
Records from the Cook County Clerk’s office also show that Home Depot filed a lien against Apex in February 2020, claiming that the company failed to pay $6,866 for work done at Ellis LakeView. The company released Apex from the lien half a year later.
“At this point we are advocating with the owners of the property to improve their situation,” said Eric Sirota, Director of Housing Justice at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, who is representing the tenants’ association. “We haven’t filed a lawsuit, or anything. At this point we are kind of hoping to have a fruitful conversation with the ownership.”
Sirota said that Integra has also retaliated against tenants who raise concerns through actions like “pretextual notice violations.”
“As several of the residents have already stated, the practices show a disregard for minimum legal habitability standards under city and state law and HUD rules,” he said.
In a press release, the tenants’ association also tied both Apex and Integra, the property manager, to other cases of mismanagement across the country.
Oron Zarum, who manages Apex Chicago according to state records for the company, is also the president of JPC Charities, a nonprofit that owns and operates low-income housing across the United States. A JPC building in Indianapolis was charged with more than 200 repair orders in 2019, according to a report from Fox 59, and given a $300,000 tax bill after the local county removed its exemption.
As the tenants’ association also shared in a press release, two board members of JPC Charities, Jason Cook and Tracey Hughey, are connected to the Better Housing Foundation, the nonprofit that was the subject of a 2018 Chicago Tribune investigation revealing thousands of code violations across dozens of low-income buildings.
Integra, for its part, managed an Arkansas property where residents told Fox 16 in 2019 that the gas had been turned off for three weeks.
The tenants’ association has met with both state Sen. Robert Peters and Ald. Sophia King (4th). Peters spoke at Wednesday’s press conference,
“We're in the midst of three crises: a public health crisis and economic crisis, and a crisis when it comes to systemic racism. When we look at what’s happening here this hits all three crises,” he said. “In an environment, such as a pandemic where you need your home and you need safety and security in your home, that when that is taken away from you due to neglect it creates even more of a crisis for tenants and for people.
“I hope this story gets out to the public to understand that when we talk about safety and justice in Chicago, that as long as people are experiencing this pain, this neglect, we will not have that safety.”