As a sign reading "Barnett Capital, Here Displacement is Strictly Business" flapped in the chill November wind Saturday, protesters stayed warm by chanting, passing out flyers, and getting signatures for a petition against displacement in the Albany Park neighborhood.
Residents of 4834 N. Springfield Ave., many of whom are Centro Autonomo members, say they were given a 30-day notice to move out of their building by it's new owner, Barnett Capital LLC.
Residents claim that this eviction is in retaliation against their attempts to get repairs done on the building and form a tenants' union.
When ownership of the building changed hands in August of 2014, the tenants saw an opportunity for needed changes to be made to the property.
"We got notice before that there were certain code violations, and once the building was sold, we saw it as a perfect opportunity to have those taken care of," explained Barbara Suarez, an organizer with Centro Autonomo. "We brought a building inspector in, he recorded various code violations, including a furnace in the back room, which should be in a separate room by itself."
According to tenants, Barnett Capital LLC was not very responsive to repair requests.
"We started communicating and they would tell us at various times they were going to show up with repairmen and not show up," said Nicole Maldonado, health coordinator for Centro Autonomo. "We actually tried to rearrange our schedules multiple times so the repairs could be made. When they did make repairs, they were made shoddily."
"They did it quickly, in a couple of hours," continued Maldonado. "They left the doors open when they left. When we sent them pictures of the poor repairs they didn't respond."
As well as seeking repairs to the building, tenants were asking Barnett Capital LLC for a one-year lease. Tenants were allegedly offered a six-month lease up until March, at which point Barnett Capital LLC wanted to remodel the building.
Tenants claim that before they had an opportunity to respond, the offer was rescinded, and they were given their 30-day eviction notice.
The tenants say the circumstances surrounding the notice are suspect.
"For now they are in their rights to give the eviction notice, but it seems like Barnett Capital really wants to evict them because they are organizing, and because they formed a tenants' union," says Antonio Gutierrez, housing coordinator for Centro Autonomo. "That is not legal, that is retaliation. It is within the rights of tenants in the city of Chicago to organize. In this case the 30-day notice does come in a very particular kind of way that it seems it mostly is because the tenants are organizing."
Gutierrez says that gentrification is displacing tenants throughout Chicago, and landlords often use illegal tactics to get residents to leave their properties. Many times the residents are unaware of their rights, making them easy to exploit.
"What we're seeing is very illegal tactics," says Gutierrez. "Telling people the police are going to come, sometimes not even giving them 30 day's notice. Telling them they need to move out in a week, or by tomorrow. We're seeing things like threatening to call immigration. We've seen threats about cutting lights, electricity, gas, hot water, which is completely illegal and they cannot do."
To most people gentrification has positive connotations, Gutierrez says, but many don't think about the low-income families that have been displaced because of it.
"This shows a very clear aspect of how gentrification also displaces people and those stories are never being told," said Gutierrez. "Whenever tenants come to a new place they never think that maybe in this apartment low income people of color used to live [here], and why is it that now we're here?"
The activists who held the event say Barnett Capital LLC is "changing the face" of the North Side neighborhood.
"Barnett Capital LLC is one of the leading gentrifiers in Chicago's north side working class neighborhoods," reads a press release about the event. "This Limited Liability Corporation recently purchased two properties in Albany Park, one with 16 apartments and three commercial spaces, and one with three apartments. Barnett's modus operandi is eviction of long term residents followed by cheap, low quality remodeling and either high rent increases or condo conversion ... Barnett's style of gentrification, with corporate profits ALWAYS the priority, is changing the face of Albany Park."
Progress Illinois' calls to Barnett Capital for comment went unanswered. Meanwhile, tenants of 4834 N. Springfield Ave. are still seeking a one-year lease, and say they are prepared to go to court to get it.