City Council Approves Housing Protections For Seniors

Ordinance will force developers and building owners that receive public funds to give notice, create a plan and communicate with residents before rehabs occur.

Seniors and their advocates in October joined Alds. Harry Osterman, 48th, and Walter Burnett, 27th, in arguing tenants should have protections when the Chicago Housing Authority renovates its buildings. (Alejandra Cancino/BGA)

Following years of complaints about unsafe conditions in Chicago’s public housing apartments, City Council members on Wednesday approved giving senior tenants a bigger say in how they are treated.

The new ordinance will force landlords to mitigate inconveniences during renovations and require developers to accommodate special needs, such as grab bars. It also sets firm deadlines for residents to be informed of moves, changes or delays, and it includes daily fines of up to $500 for landlords or developers who do not comply with the new rules.

The new rules will apply to projects that receive city funding beginning Sept. 1.

“We are the seniors, the mighty, mighty seniors,” chanted dozens of seniors in celebration at City Hall after the council approved the changes by a unanimous vote.

Tenants of the Chicago Housing Authority have complained for years about malfunctioning elevators, sporadic heat and other unsafe conditions. The Better Government Association and WBEZ last year detailed many of those problems.

“I feel great, great but it’s just a start,” said Frank Hill, 69, a tenant at Judge Fisher Apartments in Edgewater who helped write the ordinance. “We have more work to do. Next step is the Senior Bill of Rights.”

Hill and other seniors want the city to adopt what they are calling a bill of rights which would create a city department to specifically deal with senior housing and require building owners to conduct elevator inspections twice per year, among other things.

Wednesday’s approval was a victory for thousands of elderly tenants of the CHA as well as those who receive Section 8 rent subsidies in privately owned buildings. But the measure did not extend the reforms to publicly supported housing that caters to non-seniors.

Ald. Harry Osterman, 48th, who sponsored the measure, has said he agreed to limit the scope of the changes to avoid opposition from the CHA and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Osterman said he hopes to expand the ordinance once a new mayor takes office later this year. “We are also, moving forward, trying to make sure that when these projects happen, because we have to renovate older buildings, that the people are treated  —  young and old  —  with respect. So that’s something I’m going to stick to and make sure we continue to follow up on.”

The CHA has said it already has policies for relocation and follows federal regulations.

“CHA has a longstanding policy of working with residents and resident leadership whenever relocations are necessary for construction work or other reasons,” Molly Sullivan, the agency’s spokeswoman, said in a statement.