By Erica Christoffer
Imagine yourself in the roaring 20s: Howard Street on the North side of Chicago is a booming shopping and entertainment district. Out of town visitors stay at the luxurious Broadmoor Hotel. At night, locals and guests alike dress to the nines and head to the Broadmoor ballroom for a live show, home of WBBM radio’s broadcasts.
Today, the ballroom is gone, WBBM has moved on, and those swanky shops on Howard are history. But the Broadmoor is still standing.
About 25 years ago, Broadmoor was converted into a 90-unit apartment building designated for affordable housing. Much of the neighborhood north of Howard Street eventually followed suit.
However, the past two decades have been checkered for Broadmoor with drug and gang activity, prostitution, poor upkeep and shady management, says Eva McCann, facilitator for the neighborhood CAPS beat 2422. McCann works with residents, property owners, business owners and police to address neighborhood complaints and criminal activity.
“The property was constantly in and out of housing court and had various building code violations that were never really repaired,” says McCann, who believes previous owners covered up plumbing and repair problems.
“That building has been through a lot,” says Mary Jane Haggerty, former director of Rogers Park Community Council’s Housing Action Program. “It’s always been hard to manage.”
In 2006, Chicago’s Department of Housing took over the property and assigned it to Community Investment Corporation (CIC), a not-for-profit mortgage lender that provides financing to buy and rehab multifamily apartment buildings. While the building was in receivership with CIC, Ljubomir (Lou) Sopcic, a local developer, bid on the property. In June 2007 the purchase was finalized.
A new era for Broadmoor
“I always think about what would make it possible for our tenants to pay their rent, not lose their apartments and have some sort of security in their lives,” Sopcic says.
Sopcic’s property development is a family affair, started back in 1975 by his father and uncles. Today, Sopcic and his brother Dennis, as well as their mother, Mary, own and oversee about 500 rental units in Chicago.
“The building seems to have been improved over the past six months,” says McCann. “It seems like he’s trying to do something for the property.”
Broadmoor has undergone several internal makeovers during the past year, yet the work is still in progress, Sopcic explains.
“We spend most of our time investing in our properties,” Sopcic says.
Since purchasing the building, Sopcic says he has tried to retain good, loyal tenants who have been living in Broadmoor many years. At the same time, he has got rid of the gang and drug activity through evictions and court orders. Crooked security guards were replaced with new officers.
In addition to the 90 residential units, about a quarter of which are subsidized, Broadmoor also has six commercial units at the building’s first floor.
McCann says getting rid of the problem tenants was a good first step. But she’d also like to see Sandy’s convenience store closed.
“Lots of people in the neighborhood would love to see that store gone,” says McCann, who is also a Rogers Park resident. “Several months ago the police raided the store and found an unregistered gun on the premises, and arrested several people within the store suspected of
possession of drugs.”
On the repair side of things, Sopcic changed out the old heating system for a new steam system, allowing each tenant more air temperature control in their units.
“Our goal is to make the building energy efficient as well as affordable,” he says.
The Broadmoor has also received plumbing, electrical and bathroom upgrades, new windows and patio doors.
Affordable rental housing: the bigger picture
While the situation may be looking up for residents of Broadmoor, affordable housing is still suffering from both a lack of quantity and quality in Rogers Park.
According to a Housing Committee of Partners for Rogers Park study conducted from October 2007 to February 2008, black and Hispanic renters’ experiences are far less positive than those of white renters. Lakeside Community Development Corporation’s Executive Director Brian White, who served as principal author on the study, cited the “existence of a dual rental housing market, one for minorities and another for non-minorities.”
Results from the 583 renters surveyed suggest that minorities are more fearful of losing their apartments to condo conversions, they have less housing security, are more likely to live without a lease and had more negative comments about the conditions of their apartments.
“It is such a complex issue that we almost regret trying to distill it down to a single cause,” says White. “What we know is that tenants are having problems, just as we know landlords are too.”
White suggested the city examine its housing voucher programs and the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO), to see if there are ways to improve the programs’ administration, and in doing so, create more housing.
“The city has too few resources to address problems on its own, so it should be looking at ways to enlist private market landlords in support of its mission,” White says.
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) agreed that resources for preserving and maintaining affordable housing are slim. The programs in place, such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, are fought over in a pool of stiff competition.
“There are not a lot of tax credits to go around,” Moore says.
He placed blame at the federal level.
“The government in Washington simply does not provide the financial resources for us to really preserve affordable housing,” he says, pointing to needed incentives for property owners.
Like White, Moore says he too supports alternative methods of producing affordable housing. He pointed to a recent addition on a Rogers Park building where extra units were created in the lower level, which was previously unused. The new apartments were made handicapped accessible and affordable.
Sopcic said he sees the issue of affordable housing as interconnected with education and healthcare. “Unless we have a living wage and unless we have healthcare, just having affordable housing is like having a fancy stereo in a car that doesn’t run,” Sopcic says.
Sopcic, White and Moore agree that renters and landlords seeing each other on opposing sides halt progress.
“It is our belief that renters and landlords are linked in common purpose,” says White, who is working on creating a 49th Ward Tenants Advisory Committee.
Progress has been made as the 49th ward office now shares building permit information with housing groups. White says tenant and landlord education has increased, and there are increased efforts to coordinate housing services among organizations in Rogers Park.
In addition, the city’s condominium advisory task force has taken up some of the ideas produced by the Housing Committee of Partners for Rogers Park. White says they will likely be included during the formal recommendation process.
“We will be much more successful in developing and sustaining a healthy neighborhood housing market when advocates, landlords, and community residents work collectively to address the problems of tenants and landlords alike,” says White.