Diplomat residents sent packing

Residents of the Diplomat Hotel will be ordered to vacate their home in just over a week.

The closing of the building, a single room occupancy building in Lakeview, is the culmination of a two year battle over serious code violations and the struggle to maintain affordable housing in affluent North Side communities.

"It's a moral conundrum because it's an awful place," says Jennifer Gonzalez, executive director of the Lakeview Action Coalition, a community group that's advocating for the residents. "You don’t want to stop the vacation of the building that you think is going to go up in flames, but at the same time you don’t want people on the street."

Between 30 to 40 people still live in the 95 unit building, says Gonzalez. The rest of the tenants have already left to find other places to live.

More than 70 building code violations have been issued for the Diplomat, including serious fire and electrical code problems and rodent issues, says Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the Department of Buildings.

Owner Jack Gore has refused to fix the problems, says Gonzalez, and as a result, the city chose not to renew Gore's Single Room Occupancy (SRO) license for the building last month and has ordered the building to be vacated.

Gore did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

Circuit Court Judge Ann Houser ordered the building to be vacated on March 3, says Gonzalez, giving residents 21 days to find a new place to live. Houser will rule this Thursday on whether the residents of the Diplomat should receive assistance from the city to find a new place to live.

Gonzalez says the people who live in the Diplomat have trouble finding a place to live because, in addition to being low-income, they may have poor credit history or a criminal record. One woman, she says, has lived in the Diplomat for over 20 years and recently had to pay $80 for a credit check to apply for a new place, money she just doesn't have.

While Gonzalez is worried for residents, she's also worried for the Diplomat's future.

"We’re looking at it we’re trying to make sure that the residents are treated fairly, but we also don’t want this building to be lost," says Gonzalez. “We’re trying to look at all the opportunities to get it back up and running."

Alderman Tom Tunney (D-44) is also working to keep the Diplomat affordable.

"The goal for this project has been that we want it to be cleaned up, stable and affordable housing," says Bennet Lawson, deputy alderman for the 44th Ward. "We certainly don’t want to lose any affordable housing."

Lawson says the alderman and his staff are hoping that a nonprofit developer might take over the Diplomat, but so far, Gore hasn't accepted any offers to purchase the building.

Single Room Occupancy buildings are an integral part of affordable housing in Chicago, says John Bartlett, executive director of the Metropolitan Tenant Organization. They provide housing for those people most at risk for becoming homeless, a growing population in today's economy.

"SRO's are important especially now in this current housing crunch where people just don’t have as much money," says Bartlett.  "They fulfill a need for folks that are looking for jobs and people who have little money."

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12.