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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

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Wesley Avenue tenants negotiate for more alternative housing support after city recommends moving out

William Tong/The Daily Northwestern
City officials told tenants at 2014, 2018 and 2024 Wesley Ave. to move out of the buildings because their stairways had deteriorated to dangerous levels. The Housing Opportunity Development Corporation previously put up temporary support for the stairs.

Evanston resident William Carter moved to the 2014 Wesley Ave. apartment building in the 5th Ward three and a half years ago. There, he found a “self-made” community of tenants who look out for each other, he said. 

“If one of the tenants who has a hard time going up and down stairs has groceries … we grab the groceries and bring them up,” Carter said. “This is a well-knit, protective community.”

On Feb. 13, the city notified him and other tenants at the 2014, 2018 and 2024 Wesley Ave. apartments that the buildings’ stairs and stair landings had deteriorated to a dangerous level.

The city sent Carter and his neighbors a notice requiring them to move out immediately.

“I was shocked that they would bring us into a room — as a group of elderly Black tenants — and tell us we need to get out of our homes,” he said.

As of Saturday, 15 of 16 households living at the Wesley apartments have not moved out. City officials have not set a deadline for tenants to leave.  

While the remaining tenants recognize the need to leave the apartments, they do not feel comfortable doing so without stronger commitments from the city to support them in securing and subsidizing alternate housing, Carter said. 

Since the city recommended they move out, tenants have been negotiating with the city, other housing groups and the properties’ owners and managers to find a way forward that meets their needs, he added. 

For now, Evanston has committed to providing tenants temporary housing, living expense support and apartment search assistance, according to a city website set up for the situation. The city has also committed to providing one year of rent assistance to the tenants after they relocate to new properties. 

That subsidy could be extended by one year on a case-by-case basis, according to Ald. Bobby Burns (5th).

The tenants will need more support than what the city has offered so far, Carter said. 

In a March 15 message to city officials, Equity and Empowerment Commission Chair Darlene Cannon asked that the city help tenants find alternative housing located in Evanston — so as to uproot their lives as little as possible. 

Carter said that wasn’t the case initially. He said Burns and city staff presented units in Rogers Park as possible options to move into, which made tenants “livid.” 

But Burns said he and other Evanston officials never suggested tenants move to Rogers Park. Over the last few weeks, the city has reached out to 5th Ward landlords and other Evanston housing organizations to find available units for the tenants, he said. 

“We’re trying to find new units every day,” Burns said.

He added that some tenants have started applying for new apartments.

Apartment residents also requested that the first year’s rent at new housing be fully paid for by the city, with two additional years of subsidies that allow them to pay their current rates elsewhere. That’s opposed to the current rent subsidy plan — to be administered by Connections for the Homeless — that would help tenants pay their current rates for one year as a baseline. 

“Our needs equal up to a dollar, and all they were offering us is a nickel,” Carter said.

Negotiations on rent subsidy are ongoing, and Carter said this lack of long-term housing security is a primary reason most tenants are still in the Wesley apartments.

Burns didn’t rule out the possibility of longer rent assistance programs but said the city is also considering how its response to the Wesley situation might set a precedent for the future.

“Whatever we provide the residents on Wesley, we have to provide for anybody that’s similarly displaced,” he said. 

Looking further into the future, tenants are asking for the right to return to the Wesley apartments after the buildings are rehabilitated. Ideally, Carter said, building ownership would also change to some form of land trust that could keep the apartments affordable in perpetuity. 

But that’s not up to city officials. The Wesley apartments are private property — currently under the ownership of Evanston Housing Coalition and managed by the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation, a Skokie nonprofit. 

HODC, which has run day-to-day operations for the Wesley apartments since 2022, has not set a plan for the properties. Likewise, right of return agreements are also up in the air, according to the group’s executive director, Richard Koenig.

“We don’t know what the future is going to hold,” he said. “I doubt that EHC or HODC will be involved with that.” 

HODC started managing the Wesley apartments in October of 2022, Koenig said. The organization conducted structural assessments and determined the Wesley apartments’ stair apparatuses needed replacement. It also added temporary shoring for the stairs. 

Between 2022 and 2024, HODC applied for grants from the Illinois Housing Development Authority to rehabilitate the Wesley apartments, including for stair replacements. Koenig said the organization was unable to secure the funding. 

“There are a lot of organizations that want access to these grant funding sources,” he said. “It’s a very competitive process and takes a long time, and the timeframes that they have are very limited.” 

Currently, HODC does not have additional plans for building rehabilitation. Koenig said the organization has “exhausted those opportunities” for funding. 

The next meeting between Wesley apartment tenants and city staff will take place Tuesday at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, Carter said. 

“I’m hoping they will listen to our needs and at least consider holding a productive conversation,” he said. 

Most of the tenants at the Wesley Avenue apartments are 60 to 80 years old, Carter said. As they continue to negotiate for more support, they’re also battling immense stress and sadness, he added.  

“This was our retirement plan,” Carter said. “This community was supposed to be our last home.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to better reflect what Evanston officials communicated to Wesley tenants in February.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @william2tong

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