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Around Rogers Park - James Sneider Apartment Controversy

This past May, during an early season heatwave, three elderly residents of the James Sneider Apartments died from heat-related causes when temperatures inside the building quickly rose. The building contains ten stories and 120 age-restricted units with a mix of market and restricted rents. The location is 7450 N. Rogers Avenue.

The restricted rents are required under the low-income housing tax credit program that was used to raise equity that made construction of the property financially feasible. The building’s owner is Hispanic Housing Development Corporation (HHDC), a well regarded developer of affordable housing with decades of experience in the Chicago area and in neighboring states.

Tragic as these deaths were, and without diminishing the legitimate concern about what happened to these tenants and how conditions got so bad so quickly, we cannot ignore the immediate reaction of certain local elected politicians to this event, or their rush to judgment and quick condemnation of HHDC for their presumed culpability in these deaths. Leading the charge was Alderwoman Maria Hadden (49th Ward) who used this event as justification for a lightening-quick and ill-conceived new Ordinance requiring expensive A/C retrofits for all existing senior buildings, buildings over 100 units or new construction buildings – retrofits that must be completed by May 1, 2024.

As any property owner knows, regulating interior temperatures can be difficult in the best of times. Wild swings in weather systems can wreak havoc on attempts to maintain consistent interior temperatures, particularly in large buildings. With climate extremes becoming ever more prevalent, early season heatwaves are more common than they once were. Unfortunately, Chicago’s mercurial weather can see dramatic swings from cold to hot with little transition between the two.

It would seem that these subtilties were lost on our local elected officials who reflexively cast blame on HHDC as housing provider and used the incident as justification for new and costly mandates and regulations.

It is especially ironic that HHDC is the target of these attacks and accusations. HHDC has spent decades building or preserving affordable housing across Chicago. The organization started their work in the Humboldt Park and Logan Square communities more than 40 years ago. Were it not for this work, these communities would be even more thoroughly gentrified today than they currently are.

Clearly, something went terribly wrong at the James Sneider Apartments, producing tragic results. It is both fair and reasonable to demand accountability and to investigate what went wrong in an effort to prevent future tragedies like this one.

But the quick politicization of this event and denigration of HHDC seems both overwrought and self-serving – more intent on riling up the base and winning votes than finding durable and reasonable solutions to the problem. The rush to pass more, costly regulation of our industry in the emotion of the moment smacks of political opportunism at its worst. The costs of compliance may yet cause even greater harm to seniors in affected buildings. Possible outcomes include draining properties of operating funds or even forcing owners to shut down completely if the cost of compliance is out of reach. HHDC, specifically, housing providers more generally, and the seniors of Chicago all deserve better.




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