Over the past few weeks, Logan Square activists led by We Are/Somos Logan Square and residents have mobilized to the streets and voiced their concerns about gentrification and the lack of affordable housing in the neighborhood.
Since 2013, Somos has been standing up for tenants’ rights and affordable housing. The group was started when 200+ residents were evicted from apartment buildings by M. Fishman & Co.; tenants unified with residents and community allies during this battle to form We Are/Somos Logan Square.
Somos spokesperson Justine Bayod says, “Somos is all volunteers. Nobody gets paid to do this. They live in or near the neighborhood and are really worried about how gentrification is affecting the neighborhood and community on a social level.”
A target of Somos since its inception, real estate and property management company M. Fishman & Co and particularly owner Mark Fishman was the driving force behind a March 26 protest. Logan Square residents and activists gathered at Palmer Square, then marched to Logan Theatre, where a rally was held.
Through his company, Fishman owns numerous residential properties in Logan Square, including the Milshire Hotel on Milwaukee Avenue, which was operating as single-room occupancy building until it was purchased by Fishman and closed.
“Mark Fishman doesn’t care about people and community,” Bayod says. “The big tag line from Mark Fishman is ‘I bought my first building here 26 years ago.’ That doesn’t mean he is part of our community, doesn’t mean he cares about our community, doesn’t mean he wants our community to progress in any way other than a form that is lucrative to him. Unfortunately I think that speaks to lots wrong in Urban America nowadays. We don’t think about people who live next door to us, we don’t think about what hardships they’re going through, we don’t lend a helping hand when they need one and instead we sort of justify what a lot of these developers are doing as progress. This is not progress.”
Fishman and M. Fishman Co. did not respond for requests for comment for this article.
A contingent of residents who were part of the march come from a building located on Milwaukee Avenue between Sawyer and Spaulding above the Red Star Liquors and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa’s office. They spoke about their frustration with Mark Fishman — the lack of communication, monopoly of properties he controls in Logan Square and accusations of predatory methods and unwillingness to be economical with the increase of rent.
“To me it’s pretty exploitative what he does. He owns so much of Logan Square and keeps gobbling more up. It kind of gives people no choice because when he talks about market rate, he has a lot of control of the market rates. It seems somewhat artificial that he is raising rent $300-600 and we have been paying the same amount for a while,” says tenant Kat Stuehrk. “I’m frustrated with his communication more than anything because he sent us a letter saying he prides himself on direct communication with his tenants, we need to have a back and forth conversation. He sent that a month after he bought the building. We try to meet with him as a group to talk to him but he won’t meet with us.”
“I wish he would do a reasonable increase instead absurd ones. I can afford to stay for $800-900 but $1,100 plus utilities is ridiculous,” says Beth Berringer, also a tenant of the Spaulding and Sawyer building. “Not including water, garbage or heat, when I have radiators that I can’t regulate myself. That seems illegal.”
“I have two dogs and his first tactic to get me out was to tell me I would have to get rid of my dogs because he was going to have a strict no-dog policy,” tenant Stefania Salgado says. “When I told him (to see what he would say) that I can give them away to family, he raised my rent $600. Then later I see my unit being advertised on Radpad and Zillow for a much cheaper price than what he originally quoted me, which was $1,500, and he was also advertising it as pet friendly.”
Julianna, a current tenant from the building which was the crux of the march and who requested to keep her full name withheld, says Fishman is supposedly improving the building; some she has seen, she says, but the building is still without a working buzzer system.
“I have to run down three flights of stairs to get anyone in the building, and then my rent is raised over $300. Now all utilities are my responsibility including trash, which seems to be a slap to the face,” she says.
Patricia, a former tenant of Fishman who also asked to have her full name withheld, says this a pattern from M. Fishman & Co. where they give a 30-day notice of new rent prices and are unwilling to negotiate. Tenants must choose to either leave or adhere to new rent hikes.
“A similar situation that happened to our building is happening to them, 30-day notice of the change and when we try to come to an understanding with Fishman, he didn’t want to comply or work with us,” she says. “Towards the end we came to an understanding but we still had to leave and when talking the person I was working with they said to me, ‘You’re more than welcome to stay but you have to pay the $600 increase.’ Unfortunately my family couldn’t afford that so we were forced to leave. He is making it difficult for working class families to find something affordable in the neighborhood.”
Pastor Drew Rindfleisch of San Lucas United Church of Christ spoke at the rally about how he first learned about Mark Fishman. When he came to Chicago in 2010 he kept hearing about gentrification on the Northwest Side.
As with other protesters, Rindfleisch said that the rent increases were intended to force current tenants to move out.
“Mark Fishman bought a building right next door and he got rid of some of the tenants there by raising their rent,” Rindfleisch said. “One of those tenants were a family of ours that came to church. The family been struggling, the father had been out of work, he was struggling with cancer. When you’re sick and trying to pay medical bills and when you’re a working mom trying to make sure your kid is doing good in school, it’s hard on the family. We started reaching out to various organizations, Somos, Grassroots Illinois Action, Chicago Housing Initiative, Lathrop Homes Leadership Team through the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, because all these issues are affecting the neighborhoods.”
Tenant Marilyn Adames, a single mom with an 11-year-old son with a disability, expresses her annoyance with the rent increase and being pushed out of neighborhood she has long been a part of.
“Thirty days ago, I got a phone call stating that my studio that was $745 is now $1,100 starting next month,” Adames says. “No one asked a question about how many people are living there and how are you affording this apartment. Either you have the $1,100 or you get out. I am looking around but pretty much everything in this neighborhood is own by Mark Fishman. Nothing under $1,000. My son is going to have to be pulled from his school that is providing him special services. I fought for this community, 27 years I’ve lived here and we fought for this neighborhood to be safe and now he wants to throw those tenants out and make way for his own.”
Another protest was held on April 9 by Somos Logan Square with help from Lifted Voices and Grassroots Illinois Action. This time a blockade was staged when six activists locked themselves together with PVC pipe and concrete buckets, shutting down traffic on Milwaukee Avenue for two hours. An second blockade line was formed in front of the Twin Towers luxury development construction site as dozens of supporters flocked to both blockades, standing with them in protest. Police eventually cut the blockades down arresting six activists in the process.