CHICAGO, IL —Last year, I moved into one of three buildings for low-and fixed-income seniors, owned and operated at that time by Presbyterian Homes* (a non-profit company). I signed a standard Chicago Apartment Lease and a subsidy agreement for a one-bedroom apartment with a monthly rent of half the market value. I moved into the building, believing the company’s website, and what I heard from management and a friend, that I would have a home for life unless I failed to pay rent or broke the rules.
Six months later a letter came stating that the buildings would be sold and we had to move out because “the program has become financially unsustainable.” The irony of a non-profit company crying “poor mouth” to us did not go unnoticed!
We in my building led the way to save the communities. We enlisted local political and religious activists and also reporters who wrote a number of articles. The Jane Addams Senior Caucus and One Northside helped us organize a press conference at the headquarters of the owner on October 5. Police arrived in bulletproof vests carrying rifles as if we 65 to 92 year olds, a few in wheelchairs, some with walkers or canes, were a threat. We left the premises when asked.
We hired an attorney and held a press conference on October 16, after filing a class action complaint based on breach of contract and consumer fraud. Our lawyers met with us about a month later to advise that negotiations had produced a tentative settlement.
We received copies of the proposed agreement. The buildings were to be sold to Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) effective March 2. If we signed we would receive one month’s rent plus the security deposit. Anyone who did not sign could not stay and would receive no financial benefits. We had to “submit to an eligibility determination” by CHA and if we did not do this and sign the required CHA lease, we had no right to anything. We had to dismiss our lawsuit and sign away our rights to pursue any further legal action against either the old or the new owners. Signatures of a majority of the residents were required or the deal was off. Our attorneys, however, negotiated a six-figure payment for themselves.
Some of us wanted to continue the lawsuit. But we received threats and risked losing our communities. The settlement was signed and the sale took place effective March 2. It is almost November and we still do not have leases. We lost free cable and the grocery bus. We live in month-to-month limbo.
Wealthy residents of senior suburban campuses who can afford to pay six-figures to move in and four-figure monthly rents, are guaranteed lifetime residency and healthcare even if they outlive their financial resources. But for us, our saga is not over. Our so-called “golden years” continue as we try to deal with this trauma with no guarantees for our future.
*Now called Westminister Place