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Lawrence House residents fear vacate order

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Tenants of a low-rent high-rise in Uptown and community groups concerned about the loss of affordable housing fear that a building court hearing Tuesday could result in an emergency vacate order.

Though new owners of Lawrence House, 1070 W. Lawrence, have claimed success in relocating tenants of other North Side SROs they’ve redeveloped, a vacate order would let the owners off the hook and leave it up to the city to find emergency shelter for nearly 200 residents, said Mary Lynch-Dungy of ONE Northside [2].

“We’re basically talking about making 200 people homeless,” she said.

The city is not pushing for an emergency vacate order, said law department spokesman Roderick Drew.

But the owners could propose an order, or the judge could decide to issue one independently.

Lynch-Dungy noted that though Lawrence House has been in building court since 2010 — with over 100 code violations — “no judge has considered the problems serious enough to issue a vacate order.”  But such an order at this time “would be convenient for the new owners,” she said.

FLATS Chicago purchased Lawrence House on August 5 for $7.5 million dollars and plans to upgrade and add amenities, marketing renovated units as hotel-style apartments, with rents for the smallest units nearly doubling, according to reports.

FLATS told the Sun Times [3] they are “open to partnerships with housing agencies that could result in some rents being cheaper.”  At this point it’s not clear the city is taking them up on their offer, Lynch-Dungy said.

At other low-rent efficiency high-rises on the North Side, building code fines have been used by the city as leverage to encourage developers to preserve a portion of units as affordable, she said.

Fines for code violations at Lawrence House are about $2 million, she said.  Drew said negotiations the fines are still under way.

Loss of 372 affordable units in the building would come on top of hundreds of affordable units lost in the past year to SRO conversions on the North Side.

“This leaves Lawrence House tenants few housing options if they wish to remain on the North Side,” near social services, family and friends, Lynch-Dungy said.

The hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Tuesday, August 20, in Room 1107 of the Daley Center.