Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday January 31st, 2014, 1:11pm

Chicago Housing Activists Picket Logan Square Building Owner Over Evictions, Rent Increases

Chanting "No more evictions!", a group of about 60 Chicago housing activists picketed outside the office of a Logan Square property management firm Thursday evening to call out the company for allegedly displacing tenants from one of its apartment buildings.

Last fall, M. Fishman & Company, which describes itself on its website as “Chicago’s premier property management company,” took over a 50-unit apartment building in Logan Square at 2536 N. Sawyer Ave. According to current tenants, the company in October sent most of the residents who did not have an existing lease a 30-day notice to vacate the building. 

The tenants who did have a lease with the building's previous management company were told by M. Fishman that their contracts would not be renewed, those at Thursday's action said. Some tenants, however, have been told that they can stay in the building for an additional $250 or more in rent, said Laurissa Dziedzic, 28, who has lived in the apartment complex for three years.

“That’s a huge rent increase that many of us cannot afford, so it’s basically forcing us out of the building,” said Dziedzic, who currently pays $720 for a one-bedroom apartment. “I can only assume that when my lease is up in March that I’m going to (be told) that I can stay for an additional $250 or move out at the end of the month.”

Last month, seven tenants whose leases were up were given 30-day notices to leave, organizers said. In all, at least 25 tenants have left the building since M. Fishman took over the property, they said.

A representative from M. Fishman said the company had no comment. 

Marmi Launay, 59, a three-year resident of the building, said new tenants are moving into the vacated units, which have since been renovated. New tenants are paying in rent "about $250 to $300 more than what we’re paying," said Launay, who lives in a one bedroom for $729 a month.

She said she will likely have to move out when her lease is up on April 30 if she is asked to pay more.

“I’m on Social Security. I’m disabled, and I’m on my last dime,” Launay stressed. “It’s a hardship for me to move anywhere.”

Multiple tenants also raised concerns that M. Fishman has mostly been unresponsive to their repair requests involving cracked walls, holes in the ceiling, doors that do not lock and a broken elevator, to name a few. At the protest, tenants delivered a list of their needed repairs to M. Fishman’s office, located at at 3215 W. Fullerton Ave.

M. Fishman owns at least 40 properties in Logan Square, Bucktown and a handful of other neighborhoods in the city, according to its website. Most of the properties are multi-unit apartment buildings, but the company also owns the Logan Theater at 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave. The protestors marched to the theater to protest after picketing outside the firm’s Logan Square office.

Mark Fishman, owner of the property management firm, purchased the theater in 2010 and then remodeled it. Last January, the Chicago City Council approved a $1 million tax increment financing (TIF) subsidy to help reimburse Fishman for his $5.6 million renovation of the theater as well as improvements he made at eight adjacent storefronts. 

The public subsidy for the project does not sit well with the housing activists. 

“TIF dollars are obviously public money. That’s taxpayer money, so we find it incredibly outrageous that somebody [who] benefitted so heavily from the public trough ... is now evicting the very taxpayers that put money into that fund in the first place,” said Noah Moskowitz, a community organizer with the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, an advocate of the Sawyer Avenue building tenants. “The problem is not the TIF money. The problem is what he’s doing now.”

Logan Square is turning into "Fishman town," Launay added.

“He’s bought up all the properties. He’s increasing the rents. This is one man taking over a town and kicking people out," she said. "We have kids in the community, in the schools, and it’s just unconscionable.” 

Organizers acknowledged that Logan Square is gentrifying and that rent in the Northwest Side neighborhood is going up overall. But Dziedzic, who was born and raised in the area, stressed that she shouldn’t be pushed out of the community because she does not make enough money.

"That’s not fair to me. I want my children to grow up in the same neighborhoods I did, and that’s not going to be possible, because I’m slowing being pushed out," she said. "I was in Bucktown. Got pushed out of Bucktown. Now I’m in Logan Square, and I’m being pushed out of Logan Square … We’re segregating the poor from the rich, and that’s not fair.”

Paul Donnelly, 30, who’s lived at the Sawyer building for about a year, said his lease expires in March. He has allegedly been told by M. Fishman that his contract will not be renewed. Donnelly, who currently pays $550 for a studio, said the rent is up to $1,000 for similar studios in the building that have been turned over to new tenants.

“With the hard economic times and everything, a person’s got to make a living, and the people in this building have been making it work, and now all of a sudden this guy, Mark mass-eviction Fishman, comes in and he just changes all that,” he said. 

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