An ad-hoc group of activists will protest — and offer free soup — outside 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman’s office on Wednesday, March 6 (5 p.m., 4544 N. Broadway), while two community organizations have invited the controversial alderman to a town hall on March 21 to discuss affordable housing and other issues.
Food Not Bombs will be providing soup for anyone who’s hungry outside Cappleman’s office on Wednesday.
Cappleman has been getting plenty of attention lately from Mark Brown and DNAinfo for his attempts to ban low-rent cubicle hotels, kick the Salvation Army soup truck out of his ward, and most recently, make it a crime to be in a bus stop if you’re not waiting for a bus.
On top of it, with a wave of developers gobbling up affordable rentals across the north lakefront, Capplemen has shown no interest in preserving housing options for his low-income constituents — in some cases, critics say, almost certainly adding to the number of homeless.
Repeatedly citing his background as a social worker, Cappleman has claimed sympathy with the poor and sad he wants more effective delivery of services.
But “it’s not enough to say there should be grants, there should be programs,” said Thomas Weisgard, an Occupy activist and organizer of Wednesday’s protest. “Here there are hundreds and hundreds of people who now have a place to live, who have a place to get food, and he’s shutting them down.
“It’s winter, it’s Chicago, we’re getting ten inches of snow, and he’s putting people out in the street.”
“It’s classic Cappleman stuff,” said Fran Tobin of Northside Action for Justice. “He says he’s looking out for poor people by not feeding them — providing them with food makes them dependent. It’s what he’s been saying for years.”
“We’re seeing a pattern where [Cappleman’s] actions don’t jibe with his words,” said Erin Ryan, president of the board of Lakeview Action Coalition.
A social worker who works with homeless people, Ryan said Cappleman’s assertion that feeding people is a “disincentive” to getting them “sustained help” is “perplexing” and “just not in line with best practices.”
LAC and Organization of the Northeast have invited Cappleman to a community meeting on March 21 on the subject, “Who Is Welcome in the 46th Ward?”
“We want to lay out how we’d like to work together on these issues and give [Cappleman] an opportunity to speak publicly about whether he wants to work with us,” said Jennifer Ritter, LAC’s executive director.
As reported here last month, Cappleman is among the alderman that LAC has called on to help preserve SRO housing where residents are threatened with eviction. Attention in his ward has focused on the Hotel Chateau, 3838 N. Broadway, where 30-day notices of lease termination are coming due.
Cappleman has declined to use his influence to press developers to maintain affordability, or even to make a public statement in favor of preserving affordability, organizers say. Residents say he’s referred them to agencies that provide homeless services.
“There’s not a lot of room in the homeless system,” said Ryan, who’s executive director of the Lincoln Park Community Shelter. “You’re taking people who are living independently” — and in many cases accessing social services near where they live — “and putting them in shelters….It’s going to be difficult to get them back in permanent housing.”
She adds: “No one is better off in a shelter.”
Ryan points out that while the city is united behind an amibitous plan to end homelessness — which calls for preserving and expanding affordable housing — Cappleman is “working against that plan, and working to displace people and make them homeless.”
In Uptown and Rogers Park, ONE has been focused on a developer who’s bought up seven buildings with 800 units of affordable studio apartments with plans to make them upscale. ONE has been calling for a portion of the units to be preserved as affordable.
Cappleman has refused to discuss the matter with the community organization, taking the remarkable position that an alderman has no influence over a developer in his ward, said interim director Angie Lobo. She said it’s clear that in fact Cappleman is working with the developer.
“These buildings provide an important safety-net level of very affordable housing, and if they are lost, many of their resident will become homeless,” said Ryan. “We can’t afford to lose them.
“There’s no question they should be well-managed and safe, but we think there is a way to keep the buildings affordable and make them assets to the community,” she said.
LAC has succeeded in preserving a number of SROs as updated, low-income housing, most recently bringing in a nonprofit developer for the Diplomat Hotel, 3208 N. Sheffield, where Thresholds now operates the building and provides services on site.
In that case Alderman Tom Tunney (44th) took a clear public position that he wanted the building’s affordability preserved, and he worked with LAC and city agencies to make that happen. “An alderman’s support can be tremendously helpful,” said Ryan.
“We’re trying to work with the developers and the alderman, but there are so many backroom deals, and we have not been welcome at the table,” she said.