About 30 Chicago housing activists picketed outside a Citibank branch Wednesday morning as part of their ongoing fight to save a Rogers Park "community house."
Organizers toted signs reading, "I support the house on Ridge" and "Housing is a human right," while tenants of the home, located at 7245 N. Ridge Ave., were inside the branch attempting to meet with a Citibank mortgage representative to discuss their offer to purchase the foreclosed property.
Jorge Ortiz, an organizer with Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction, lives in the home with his family, including his mother and uncle. Ortiz and his family moved into the Rogers Park home in 2012 after the previous property owner, who was facing foreclosure, abandoned it. Organizers said Citibank later purchased the home at a foreclosure auction.
The current tenants of the bank-owned home, with the help of Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction, turned the property into a "community house" that hosts clothing drives, movie screenings, health fairs and other neighborhood events. People who have had difficulties finding affordable housing also stay there, organizers said. The tenants at the property are currently facing eviction.
Ortiz's mother, Maria Dolores-Calvillo, is seeking to purchase the home for $200,000 in order to avoid eviction and maintain the property as a community space. Ortiz said Citibank branch representatives directed the family to speak with officials at the corporate level.
"We went in and explained the situation ... That we're trying to save our community house. That we have a pre-approval, and we want to speak to somebody at Citibank that's going to approve, or at least look at, our offer," Ortiz told reporters outside the Citibank branch at 2295 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Before Dolores-Calvillo decided she would attempt to buy the home, the tenants and their supporters were trying to get the bank to consider donating the property or selling it at a low cost to a Chicago-based community land trust. The non-profit Casas del Pueblo Community Land Trust, which was created by the Albany Park neighborhood group Centro Autonomo, was willing to receive the title of the home and turn it into permanent affordable housing, while also keeping it open as a neighborhood hub. Antonio Gutierrez, housing coordinator at Centro Autonomo, said the group has not had any luck going that route.
Ortiz said the bank has, however, offered to sell the home at market value at about $350,000.
Here's more from Gutierrez, Ortiz and scenes from the protest:
Organizers and tenants said they will continue their attempts to negotiate with the bank.
"It's a lot of money," Dolores-Calvillo said of her $200,000 offer. "The bank needs to understand that it's a lot of money, and it can do a lot of things with $200,000 ... I'm only asking for a house to keep many families in there."
It is urgent, Gutierrez said, that the negotiation process moves forward, as the tenants "might get evicted today or tomorrow."
"Citibank needs to understand the importance of keeping families in (their) home," Dolores-Calvillo stressed. "I'm not asking for a free house. I'm asking (for the bank) to give me options to buy that house for the community."