Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Ald. Cappleman figures he has license to act this way

By Mark Brown, columnist

This has been quite a week for Ald. James Cappleman (46th) LCSW.

If you don’t know, LCSW stands for licensed clinical social worker, which is Cappleman’s profession by training, as he always makes sure to remind everyone.

Cappleman brought it up again Wednesday while explaining why he opposes Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed moratorium on redeveloping or demolishing the city’s dwindling supply of single-room occupancy and residential hotels.

Cappleman also brought up his bipolar father’s suicide, his fear of a bipolar roommate that caused him to sleep in his clothes to allow for a quick escape, his experiences of working with mentally ill people when he was a Franciscan friar that had something to do with hiding his toothbrush, and how he opened the first homeless shelter for AIDS patients — all by way of stating his credentials for understanding the SRO issue better than others.

As it happened, Cappleman’s announced preference for continuing to eliminate this last-chance housing stock for the poor came less than 36 hours after the city — at his urging — ran off the homeless people sleeping in his Uptown neighborhood’s lakefront parks.

Even by Cappleman’s low standards, the lowest being his effort in the spring of 2013 to block the Salvation Army from feeding the needy in his ward, that’s quite a display of insensitivity.

On one hand, he is willing to forge ahead with the SRO decimation that many experts agree has helped push more of the city’s most vulnerable residents into homelessness, and on the other, he continues to harass the homeless people this creates.

Citing the disproportionate number of people living in SROs who suffer from chronic mental illness or have drug and alcohol problems, Cappleman said: “My concern is that we are promoting a failed model.”

He called on his colleagues to “look for some real solutions that work” instead of saving SROs.

“I realize that I will be highly criticized for wanting to vote no, but I’ve always believed in walking the walk rather than just talking the talk,” Cappleman said. “Anyone who has done more than I over the past four decades for people living with mental illness, please cast the first stone.”

You heard the man. Grab your rocks. The line forms here. (To be clear, I’m only speaking metaphorically.)

Cappleman was the only individual to speak out against the proposed moratorium during a hearing before the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate, which approved the measure on a voice vote.

Not even the developers who have benefited from the strategy of turning old SRO buildings into more upscale housing that caters to young professionals bothered to testify in opposition.

I’m guessing they can see the handwriting on the wall with Emanuel backing the 181-day moratorium as he tries to tack to the left in advance of his 2015 re-election campaign so as to avoid getting de Blasio’d.

The developers are no doubt concentrating their effort on shaping the long-range solution Emanuel promises will govern SRO redevelopment after the moratorium runs out.

Community activists, with backing from a group of aldermen, have pushed for an ordinance that would severely restrict what SRO owners could do with the buildings — or force them to pay substantial fees into a fund that would support low-income housing. Property owners contend this would amount to an illegal “taking” of their property by the city.

Cappleman, to the surprise of those involved in that effort, committed several weeks ago to co-sponsor the SRO ordinance. But on Wednesday, he reverted to form.

Representatives of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Thresholds, a social service agency that assists people with mental illness, both testified to the important role SROs have served in providing affordable, albeit often less than ideal, housing to the vulnerable populations they serve.

Residents of the Milshire Hotel in Logan Square, which was on the verge of a sale — and probable conversion — before Emanuel proposed the moratorium, came to City Hall to show their support for the ordinance.

“Rents are getting so high in Chicago that, without the Milshire, I am afraid I would end up on the street,” said Fred Bartels, who has lived there since 2007.

“For me and my neighbors at the Milshire, this moratorium is a ray of hope,” he said.

Cappleman’s hopes run in another direction. After all, he’s an LCSW, don’t you know.