Eithne McMenamin: Data shows SROs are vital option to avoid homelessness

Below are my remarks from today’s press conference at City Hall. A coalition called Chicago For All announced the introduction of an ordinance to put a moratorium on SRO conversions and demolitions until a new city ordinance is developed.

The coalition is led by ONE Northside, with partners that include CCH, Metropolitan Tenants Organization and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

Good morning. My name is Eithne McMenamin. I am the Associate Director of Policy at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. As we have heard from the previous speakers, SROs are vitally important to their ability stay housed. Their personal experiences reflect what we know is generally true for many residents of these buildings. The Coalition for the Homeless did a survey of tenants of several residential hotels last year. What we found is that these tenants are extremely vulnerable and have limited options for relocation. Two-thirds of those we surveyed are 50 years of age or older, nearly half have a mental or physical disability, and 25% are military veterans. 

These buildings are often in convenient locations, close to public transit, employment opportunities, and social service providers. They provide a desirable alternative to the threat of homelessness. Nearly half of those we surveyed reported that they would be homeless if they lost their current housing. Another 15% said they did not know where they would go.

Chicago’s Plan 2.0: A Home for Everyone, endorsed by Mayor Emanuel, projects that Chicago needs at least 3,500 units of affordable housing for extremely low-income households just to meet the needs of those already experiencing homelessness. We simply cannot continue to lose this housing stock.

The city’s network of emergency shelters has been operating at nearly 100% capacity during the coldest months of the year for several years. Thousands of households have applied for permanent supportive housing through the City’s Central Referral System and are awaiting placement. Additional subsidized housing options do not exist and the private supply of affordable housing is dwindling.

Residential hotels and SROs provide a flexible, affordable, and independent private living space for very low-income individuals and often serve as the final safety net before homelessness. To achieve the objective set out in Plan 2.0- the City’s plan to end homelessness, Chicago needs to increase- not diminish- the supply and quality of affordable rental housing for those who are extremely low income or are at risk of homelessness.

The moratorium and eventual preservation ordinance are a step in the right direction of the City, advocates, and building owners working collaboratively and creatively to stem the tidal wave of SRO conversions into high-end housing. Thank you.

We will now hear from our lead Chicago For All ordinance sponsors, Aldermen Pawar and Burnett.