Facing steep rent hike, Midway tenants stage protest

Tenants: Landlord refused to negotiate at meeting with Alderman Cochran over rent hike

By Thalia Gigerenzer

Tenants protested sudden rent increases and management negligence Tuesday in front of Midway Gardens Apartments, a high-rise residential complex on East 60th Street and South Cottage Grove Avenue. About 15 tenants braved the rain and cold to protest 25- to 30-percent rent increases—an average of $200 per month—shouting slogans such as “Think twice, we have mice,” and “No to $200, yes to repairs!”

“It’s just cruel,” said Alvina Broussard, who has been a resident of Midway Gardens for 13 years. “At least 90 seniors will be put out in the streets. Families will be separated. Many residents have children going to school in Hyde Park and Kenwood who may not be able to graduate.”

In early January, Midway Gardens’ landlord informed its mostly low- to mid-income residents of the increase by posting notes to elevator doors. The rent increase was set to take effect the following month, but residents and members of the tenants’ rights advocacy group Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) said their letters and protests delayed the increase, at least temporarily.

“We told the management that the posted notices were illegal and informed the tenants of their rights,” said Jerrett Yan, a MTO member.

But in early April, the Chicago Dwellings Association (CDA), the not-for-profit corporation that owns Midway Gardens, sent individual letters to tenants, asking them to pay rent increases or vacate within a 30-day period, by May 1. In the letters, the management cited rising costs of heat, utilities, and maintenance as reasons for the rent increase. The letters also referenced the cost of redecorating and repainting common rooms, laundry rooms, and parking lots.

CDA did not reply to calls for comment.

“We don’t mind the increase in rent, but $200 at once is ridiculous. Our demands are to phase in the rent and to tell us why this is happening—there have been no renovations or repairs,” Broussard said, citing the building’s history of flooding. According to Broussard, there has not been a rent increase in four years.

The protesters said the management has refused to speak to tenants about this issue.

“When tenants tried to meet in the community room in January, it was locked ‘for repairs’—it’s been closed since then. They’ve shut down the management office,” Yan said. He also said the management refused to speak to a tenant representative during a meeting with 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran.

The CDA was created by the Chicago Housing Authority in 1948 to develop moderate-income housing for families with incomes too high to meet public housing eligibility standards, but too low to obtain adequate housing in the private market. Midway Gardens, completed in 1953, was the CDA’s first project.

For the almost 100 seniors in the unit 317 building, many of whom have been residents for over 30 years, the prospect of finding a new home by May 1 has created a sense of panic.

“It’s taking over half of my income for the month,” said Laura Cummings, who attended the protest in a wheelchair. “I’ve had people looking for housing for me, but I would prefer to stay here. I’ve lived in the Hyde Park-Kenwood-Woodlawn neighborhood all my life.”

“In 48 years, I’ve never missed a month’s rent,” said Ida Pollard, who values her proximity to the University of Chicago Hospital. “I live in a two-bedroom—the rent was $826, now it’s $1,050. It’s nice, but it’s not worth $1,050.”

While residents are hesitant to point fingers, many tenants view the red-and-white banners on the gates advertising housing for “U of C students and employees” with apprehension.

“We have some U of C people here—I know some security guards and at least 3 or 4 students. I think the U of C is going to take over,” resident M.H. Clay said.

“I don’t want to see you guys moving into my apartment!” Clay told a Maroon reporter half-jokingly.