Even with the usually eclectic mix of people you see in court that brings together everyone along the food chain from landlords to tenants and their coterie of legal representatives, the Astor House residents and their supporters were a motley crew in housing court in downtown Chicago on Tuesday.
There was Arbie Bowman, whom we featured in a recent story, a short woman, quick to smile, with her dark blond hair in a stubby ponytail. Another member of the group of tenants and supporters was Marc Kaplan, a tall, bald man with a goatee from Northside Action for Justice who towered above most of the people in the courtroom. Melvin Jennings, a heavyset man holding a baseball cap he nervously turned in his hands, had been one of the last tenants to move into Astor House before it was bought by BJB Properties, a management company known for turning single room occupancy hotels into high-end developments.
The group, which included a handful of Astor House tenants, several supporters from Northside Action for Justice and Victoria Ogunsanya, a staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, waited for more than an hour in court at 50 W. Washington St. to hear the results of the building inspector’s visit to the Astor House on July 8. But it wasn’t to be. The judge presiding over the case was on vacation, and the group received another court date, Aug. 6.
At issue is the state of the Astor House, a 13-story high rise in Rogers Park. The troubled building was bought by BJB Properties in October 2012. At that point it was already in housing court for a litany of structural and upkeep problems. Shortly after purchasing the building, BJB Properties began to rehab Astor House. Tenants argue that the construction makes an already uncomfortable living situation worse.
The tenants are hoping the judge will order the city to take over as property manager. To increase the chance of this happening, the Astor House residents and their supporters will be pushing for a meeting with a city attorney before their next court date.
At least until their next court date, the Astor House residents will have to continue sharing the building with what they say are ever-present bed bugs and early morning construction.
“Conditions are still poor,” Bowman said. “We have no running hot water in the kitchen. I have to boil the water. My daughter don’t even want to stay there. She is like mom, ‘Can we go somewhere else to live?’ And wherever you go, [potential landlords] see where you come from, they don’t want to rent with you. They know that you are coming from a place that’s got bedbugs, and mice and roaches.”