On Monday, 60 protesters, including Illinois State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), clergy and senior residents “urged Presbyterian Homes owner Todd Swortzel to reconsider displacing over 100 seniors who live in affordable housing for low income seniors. Two of these homes are in the heart of Rep. Feigenholtz’s district,”according to a press release from her office.
The protest took place in front of Swortzel’s office in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb just North of Chicago. According to the The Daily Northwestern, “Feigenholtz asked Swortzel to consider offers from affordable housing developers that could allow the low-income seniors to remain in their homes instead of those from developers that would raise rents.” In her appeal, she said, “Let these people live and stay in their homes,”and “Please reconsider — I am pleading with you.”
Another Chicago alderman, James Cappleman (D-Chicago), said “he was informed of the closures the same day the residents were notified. Cappleman said he and other local politicians then spoke with affordable buyers willing to purchase the properties at market rate, but Swortzel refused to work with them.” according to the paper.
“These residents were given notice that they had to leave their homes in the next year. These people call Lakeview home. They worship, shop and have medical offices here. Moving them is inhumane,” added Feigenholtz. “Don’t displace our seniors; preserve the affordability of these homes.”
In an emailed statement on Wednesday, Robert Warden, Vice President, Marketing and Public Relations said: “We have met with public officials and explained in detail our efforts to sell to a NFP housing group and we are convinced that for a host of reasons; including the fact that the current buildings do not have a “Housing Agreement” with a third party payer like HUD or CHA so converting these buildings, (if that were possible), would still result in the displacement of our residents and therefore was not in our best interest. If the public officials have alternative for us to consider, we will do so.’
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown reported that, “Presbyterian Homes, an Evanston-based non-profit that also owns more upscale “senior living communities” in the suburbs, says its charitable donations are no longer sufficient to meet the cost of subsidizing rents and keeping up with maintenance at its city properties.”
He also claims that Warden stated that “Presbyterian Homes decided to “refocus” the $600,000 a year it was spending to fund operating deficits at those buildings on its core business — continuing care retirement communities in Evanston, Lake Forest and Arlington Heights. Residents of those facilities receive contractual agreements promising they will be allowed to stay if they outlive their assets.”
Affordable housing is at a premium for most low and even moderate income people in Chicago, and is especially acute for seniors, most of whom face waiting lists of four to five years to be approved for a unit. Brown also noted that many are surprised, that a faith based organization with an admirable record, operating without government dollars, and a strong record for 20 years could make this decision.
In an unusual move, Presbyterian homes did offer residents a better deal than most previous displacements, “residents were told they have until Nov. 1, 2016, to move and will continue to receive rent subsidies during that period. If they move sooner, they will be paid the unused rent subsidy in a lump sum, along with $1,500 for moving expenses,” sweetening the deal, if not the future.