rooming houses: SROs harder to find in Chicago FWD

Tom Boland (
Wed, 27 May 1998 02:21:58 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  Chigago Sun Times - May 12, 1998


     By Leon Pitt - Housing Reporter

Perry Shearrilly collects and sells discarded aluminum cans to supplement
the $6 an hour he earns when he works as a dishwasher at a Loop restaurant.

Unlike many very low-income day workers, Shearrilly, 53, doesn't spend his
nights in a shelter or sleeping with dozens of homeless people on Lower
Wacker Drive. He has a small ``but comfortable'' room with a color
television in the aging Roosevelt Hotel at Wabash and Roosevelt, one of the
few single room occupancy, or SRO, buildings still standing in the
increasingly upscale South Loop. He pays $120 a week in rent.

The Roosevelt dates to when the south Loop was jammed with SROs. Some
consider such buildings ``flophouses,'' but buildings such as the Roosevelt
provide housing that otherwise would not be affordable to single, working,
poor adults.

Before the city began losing its SROs in 1973 to deterioration and
redevelopment, nearly 5,500 units of the citywide total of more than 53,000
units were in the Loop. Today, the Loop has fewer than 2,000 SRO units,
with 13,000 citywide, said Jean Butzen, executive director of Lakefront
SRO, a nonprofit developer.

Efforts are under way to improve some run-down buildings and build new
housing in the South Loop, Near West Side and other gentrifying areas, city
officials and housing advocates say.

Since 1989, the city Department of Housing has joined SRO developers and
other organizations to build and preserve 4,209 units in more than 30
buildings across the city, including a 170-unit building at 18th and Wabash
that opened in September. It was the first SRO built in the South Loop in
more than 50 years, city officials said.

Citywide, 685 units are scheduled for rehab or construction this year,
Butzen said. A ``huge impediment'' to building more SRO units, she said, is
the lack of social service money to pay for supportive housing for people
with substance abuse or mental health problems.

Jack Markowski, first deputy housing commissioner, said counseling, job
training and other services should be an integral part of SRO operations.

``The big thing is not just shelter, but giving people the kind of
supportive services they need to get back on their feet and the training
for full-time jobs and independent living,'' Markowski said.

As with any industry, there are good and bad SROs.

``The bad ones hurt both tenants and the neighborhoods where they are
located,'' said Cindy Anderson, treasurer of the Uptown Chicago Commission.

In the past, the commission, an umbrella organization of residents and
civic groups in the revitalizing Uptown neighborhood, has challenged SRO
operators there to clean up their acts.

Although there is no doubt about the decline of SROs in Chicago, little is
known about the suburbs. In a 1996 report, ``Stemming the Loss of SRO
Housing,'' the Lakefront SRO group said only that there is ``very little''
of such housing in suburban Cook, DuPage and Lake counties.

A 1996 report by the Illinois Coalition to End Homelessness, which was
incorporated into the Lakefront analysis, claimed that 47,000 suburbanites
are homeless at some point during the year.

Every year, agencies turn away an estimated 17,000 suburban people seeking
shelter because of a lack of space and resources, the coalition reported.

Shearrilly said he gets no government assistance to help pay his rent. He
agrees with Butzen that single people need a place to stay, especially near
the central city, where day jobs are plentiful and accessible by public

Because he can walk to his job ``whenever they need me'' and hustle beer
cans to help pay his rent, Shearrilly, who has lived at the Roosevelt for
10 years, said he ``survives'' and even manages to keep ``some money in my


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