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Apartment upgrades evicting poorer tenants

By Eric Peterson, Associated Press – Wed Jun 6, 2011

 

Schaumburg, Ill. - A market-driven upgrade of a Schaumburg apartment complex, coupled with a limitation on what the Housing Authority of Cook County can spend on subsidies for low-income residents, may soon force the relocation of as many as 50 families.

Paula Pedersen, who’s 60 years old and disabled, is one of those tenants. She has called the Tree House Luxury Apartments — and the greater Schaumburg community — home for the past 20 years, but doesn’t yet know how far away she’ll have to move this fall.

Not only are all her doctors in the immediate area, but she and her 21-year-old son, Sean, are students at nearby Harper College. He is trying to get a career started while she is taking health care classes to make herself more marketable.

Paula Pedersen

Tree House Luxury Apartments resident Paula Pedersen talks about the frustrations of having to find a new place to live that will accept a Housing Authority of Cook County voucher. The Tree House is going through a million renovation that will raise rents beyond the ability of the vouchers to cover. (Samantha Bowden - Staff Photographer)

Both have great optimism about the efforts to improve their lives, but now realize they’re largely dependent on staying where they are now.

“Your housing is your one main thing, you know?” Pedersen said.

Though both Tree House management and housing authority officials have pledged to help in their search for a new home, Pedersen said she’s received little advice from her own case worker.

“All she says is come downtown and pick up your moving papers,” Pedersen said.

Two weeks ago, Pedersen and other residents received notices on their doors that their leases won’t be renewed when they expire in October. This is so their apartments can be renovated like much of the 752-unit complex at the corner of Algonquin and Plum Grove roads already has.

Tree House Manager Kristen McAtee said the $20 million renovation is being done to stay competitive with surrounding properties that already have upgraded.

The process began in 2008 and has been done in small steps to have as little impact on residents as possible, she said. First vacant apartments were done, then individual units while they were between tenants.

But now, the only way to finish the renovation on schedule by next year is to not renew the leases of residents who’ve been there throughout the process, McAtee said. This will affect both full-paying tenants as well as those living on subsidized vouchers.

After renovations, the monthly rent per unit is expected to go up between $200 and $300. That’s beyond what the housing authority’s vouchers can cover.

McAtee said the decision is the housing authority’s, as Tree House has no financial incentive to turn away residents who are using the vouchers to pay and want to stay within the complex.

Lorri Newson, executive director of the Housing Authority of Cook County, said the agency has only so much money to work with in trying to serve as many homeless or potentially homeless people as possible. Too much money being paid to a few landlords means that fewer people are being served.

McAtee said the number of vouchers Tree House currently accepts is confidential. But Pedersen has heard estimates of about 50 families — 10 of whom she knows personally.

Each pays 30 percent of their adjusted gross income toward rent, with vouchers covering the rest. And raising her income is something Pedersen is working hard at.

“I live on $694 a month,” she said. “I budget. If anyone knows how to live on little, I’ve learned!”

While there were some problems in the past with drug abusers and alcoholics living there on the vouchers and making others’ lives miserable, those tenants have been weeded out, leaving only the responsible ones, said Pedersen. Among the residents who’ve remained, Pedersen is looked to as a leader.

“A lot of them are looking to me like I’m the smart one,” she said.

As disruptive as the situation is proving, Pedersen said she’s been grateful to have a roof over her head for the last 20 years — and in Schaumburg. She came there when her son was 17 months old after the closing of her parents’ business left her unemployed.

“I was lucky when I moved here, because Sean went to all good schools,” she said.

Though she has worked various jobs over the years, medical problems like a seizure disorder, diabetes and arthritis have made regular employment difficult in recent years. But Pedersen has now lost enough weight to no longer need the wheelchair she was largely dependent on for years.

Newson said there are 320 housing authority vouchers currently being used in Schaumburg, which makes her confident there are other landlords capable of keeping at least some of the displaced Tree House residents in the area.

But Pedersen said she doesn’t know where she’s going to come up with moving costs, even if she manages to find a new place a few miles away.

She believes she’ll have to sell off many of her belongings, and her only alternative if the housing authority can’t find her a new place is her car and local PADS shelters.

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