Del Prado Residents Face Uncertainty

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Seventy-eight residents of the Del Prado in Hyde Park are facing uncertainty and possible eviction because their landlord has opted out of a government housing program.

Located on the southeast corner of 53rd and Hyde Park Boulevard, the legendary Del Prado building once housed the very elegant Del Prado Hotel and is now home to the prestigious Hyde Park Art School and Gallery and the Del Prado Apartments. The Del Prado was once known as “the” place to eat, meet and greet for the University of Chicago set as well as visitors to the University’s internationally known cultural and academic institutions.

A short walk from the Del Prado, one can enjoy a visit to the Oriental Museum, which, due to some quite generous endowments, has become an extraordinary site for viewing a distinctive collection of ancient Near East and Egyptian artifacts. It goes without saying that the University of Chicago is one of the most impressive academic institutions in the world. It is alleged that more United States presidents graduated from its law school than from any other university in this country.

I live in the Del Prado because of the convenience of so many bus and train options near the building. Four buses stop right at the door of the building. This is important to me and to many seniors, persons with disabilities and others in the building.

But 78 of the approximately 300 residents of the Del Prado These residents are receiving housing subsidies under a federal government program.

Denise Irwin from the subsidized tenants watchdog group Tenants United For Housing told me recently that she was informed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that the Del Prado, along with another building a few blocks away, are on an “opt-out” list. Being on the “opt-out” list means that the landlord has decided to stop taking a certain kind of subsidy from the federal government. That means that residents of the Del Prado, like myself, who pay just 30 percent of our income in rent, will get vouchers and may have to pay more if we want to stay. I spoke to the management of my building – representatives of the D.M. Taylor company – about the situation. One of the management staff members there denied that residents will have to move out.

“That’s not true,” she said. “I don’t know who started that rumor but apparently it has been circulating around since summer.

At this point in the conversation, there were two questions to get answered: 1. Whether or not the Del Prado would be going condo or not; 2. Whether all Section 8 tenants would be kicked out of the building?

The assistant manager in the office at the time who asked not to be identified by name for this article – responded by saying: “Every subsidized tenant currently living in the building will eventually get a voucher. Really, the situation is like this: Anyone who doesn’t want to go will be able to stay here. Which means you would be able to use your vouchers here if you choose to do so.

“As far as I know, no one is being forced to move out of the building. There will be some minor changes because some of the rules are changing but people in house are not affected by the change.

This assistant manager said some of the subsidized residents already had been notified of the landlord’s decision to “opt out” of the HUD program and some have yet to be notified. Some of the subsidized residents have received housing subsidy vouchers from HUD, not the management company. These vouchers might be used in the building but may be used to get housing somewhere else.

As far as changes go, however, this assistant manager quickly added that it was very likely that any subsidized resident who wanted to stay would face an increase of between 5-10 percent more than the amount currently assessed annually.

“The procedure is relatively the same,” the assistant manager explained. “We will still go by a sliding scale, according to income. But after all is said and done, there are no plans for the Del Prado to go condo.

“But you should also know that the process is not actually over. There are HUD tenants in the building yet waiting to hear from HUD who are yet to be processed, notified and given vouchers. And all this will happen in due time.” For more than one year, I have been hearing rumors from other tenants about what was going to happen in the Del Prado. A certain tenant on the sixth floor who has gone through the preliminary process is in terrible despair. Her impression is that she is being kicked out of the building.

Again, the assistant manager was calm and, in a rather officious manner, said, “We do not even try to talk to her any more. We have tried over and over. She cannot seem to get it into her head that she does not have to leave here. She can take the voucher and go wherever she likes, if she wishes. However, she may in fact choose to use her voucher here but it is entirely up to her.

Representatives from Tenants United For Housing are working hard to get answers to a few issues about the Del Prado. They want to know what was done and whether what was done was entirely legal with respect to the landlord’s decision to opt out of the HUD program. They also want to know if all legal procedures were followed as mandated by state and federal law.

C. Evans at Tenants United For Housing said, “HUD is supposed to give us a list shortly after the first notice to the tenants is served by the landlord declaring their decision to opt out of the program, she said.

“Legally, any landlord opting out of the program is required to deliver to each HUD tenant a statement, clearly indicating their plan to opt-out exactly one year following the date of the written notification, that is to say at the time it was delivered.

“And this is what Ms. Irwin (from Tenants United For Housing) has been trying to determine these past few days. Simply because we have just received a notice ourselves informing us of the termination of D.M.Taylor’s contract. However, this is something we should not have to do.

“In fact, our organization is supposed to be notified pretty much around the same time that HUD receives its notification. The problem is, however, HUD always has a tremendous amount of paperwork that some seems to get backlogged.

“At any rate, the dates, as well as the legality of the form which might have been used, are at this moment all in question.

From the very beginning of this process, I have been very concerned about the number of senior citizens and tenants who reside in the building as well as those who are mentally challenged.

Who will look out for them? Who will help them locate suitable residences according their expressed wishes and preferences?

Mary Dantzler, a long time friend and resident of advanced age, approached me in the vestibule of the building recently. At the time, she had a troubled expression on her face and passively waved a letter up for me to take a look at.

I did look at her letter and realized that I was holding in my hands a document that proved some of the things I had heard.

Dantzler had received a letter from CHAC, the private company which runs the Section 8 program, informing her of an appointment with them in order to pick up a housing voucher. The letter clearly indicated the necessity of being on time; if she was 15 minutes late, that would cause her to forfeit her appointment for that day, thereby causing her something of a delay.

Noticing the look of near helplessness on her face and the sound of hopelessness in her voice gave me greater determination to pursue this issue with Del Prado and HUD, not only for my own sake but for others similarly placed as well.

One of my neighbors who clearly will not be affected by the subsidy problems a few of the tenants are having is a student from South Africa. His government sponsors his education in this country and they provide for most of his expenses.

On Sunday, Feb. 4, we sat down to enjoy a good buffet lunch at a wonderful Thai restaurant. There I discussed some of the problems with the management a few of us were having. He chose to speak to me about some of the socioeconomic and political issues related to the Basket Weavers Women’s Co-operative back in South Africa. This pleasant dialogue caused me to sharply realize how different people living in the same space could have concerns that set them far apart.

The Del Prado is so diverse. We have police officers living next door to students, judges living next door to investment banker-types, senior citizens living next door to rap entertainers.

Over the past 17 years Ive lived in the Del Prado, Ive watched the buildings diversity add so much to everyones lives. People have become more flexible in their political positions, in their views on race relations and on other points. It’s sad the landlord’s decision to opt out of this government program may change that.

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