1,000 signatures reached
To: Ralph Jackson, U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
HUD: Donate foreclosed, vacant property to neighborhood organization
We want HUD to donate this property to a neighborhood non-profit organization that sponsors our work. Not only will this honor the work that has already gone into this property, but also ensure that it continues to serve as an asset to the community. For instance, this building has been used as the offices of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign and the Chicago Independent Human Rights Council, Black Chicago Development Coalition, Ladders of Opportunity Youth builders program, as well as a community center that provides counsel for homeowners and tenants facing homelessness, and utilized for neighborhood truce discussions. Over the past seven years, it has also served as housing for several homeless families of young men.
Why is this important?
My name is Willie Fleming. For the past several years, I have lived at 1401 E. 75th Street Chicago, IL 60619. I am now writing to you because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) recently attempted to evict me from my apartment. I and the other tenants that live in this building are seeking to contact HUD to ensure that we can continue to live in this building.
In 2007, I began renting this building from one of the former owners, Patricia Hill, with plans to work out of it for at least the next ten years. As soon as I moved in, I did my best to make this place not only a comfortable place for me to live, but also a resource for others in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. As this is a mixed-use building, with both residential and storefront business space, I took it upon myself to reach out to local residents to see that it be used for programs and activities that benefited children, single parents, and others in need. By the time that I learned that the building had been foreclosed on in 2008, I had signed subleases with several tenants and local organizations. For a period of time, a food give away drive, a young women’s empowerment program, a youth poetry program, and an adult literacy initiative were all being run out of this building to provide services at no charge for those in the community.
All of these efforts ground to a halt in March 2010, when Citibank and HUD began their eviction at the building. Even though we had received no notification about the foreclosure, nor were we given an opportunity to present our lease to the new property owner, we faced repeated eviction attempts that disrupted the constructive work we were doing with local residents. In addition to reaching out to the former owner, Ms. Hill, we also attempted to contact her commercial lender, Citibank, but we were unable to make any headway.
In January 2014, my subtenants and I were forced to evacuate the property after the new property owner or its contractors had the heat cut off in the middle of winter. Over the next several weeks, we attempted to return to the property but faced the mounting task of repairing the significant damage that had been done to the pipes, walls, and floors after the building was allowed to freeze. By late February, we had been able to secure the property and begin making repairs. This process of making repairs to the property continued until June 2014, when we found that a contractor from Safeguard Properties LLC had, without any notification to use as the tenants, begun removing our items from the property. After notifying the contractor of our tenancy and contacting the police, they were forced to stop, but Safeguard ultimately refused to honor our claim for the items that had been taken from the property.
Since August 2014, my subtenants and I have worked to make extensive repairs to the interior and exterior of this building, spending over $20,000 to address the damage done after the heat was cut, the pipes burst. Not only did we prevent it from being left as a vacant property, we also hired local tradesmen to make the repairs and convinced them to hire local youth to learn from them on the job. Ultimately, we hoped that the repairs that were made to this property might serve as an example for other organizations in how to address the growing problem of vacant properties and youth homelessness on the South Side of Chicago.
On April 1st, 2016 the Cook County Sheriff executed an old eviction order. However, tenants still remained in the property because they did not have alternative safe, decent and habitable housing. These tenants have documented work on the repairs of this property as well as an extensive documented record of volunteerism with multiple organizations as they battle unemployment and the lack of labor force participation. In spite of these facts, they face continued threats of arrest for trespassing and theft of their property by the property preservation company.