A recent death at one affordable housing development in Evanston may be putting the fate of a new project in jeopardy.

A 62-year-old man was found dead of natural causes in his unit at the Claridge Apartments at 319 Dempster St. on Feb. 15.

Two city council members, Clare Kelly and Melissa Wynne, in a letter to Mayor Daniel Biss two days after the body was discovered, claimed the death “reflects an ongoing pattern of neglect and disregard for the safety and wellbeing” of residents of the property, owned by the Housing Opportunities Development Corporation.

Kelly claims that management ignored complaints from residents about a foul odor coming from the apartment.

But HODC Executive Director Richard Koenig says a property manager went to the building on Feb. 1, in response to a call from a tenant, but that despite speaking to tenants near the unit where the body ultimately was found, was unable to identify a foul odor that would justify doing a wellness check.

It’s unclear whether any building tenants may have called Evanston Police to request that police perform a wellness check before the day the body ultimately was discovered.

A rendering of the proposed five-story affordable housing development at 1811-1815 Church St.

HODC is currently seeking City Council approval to build a new 44-unit, five-story affordable housing development at 1811-1815 Church St. That project is scheduled for discussion at a March 13 Planning and Development Committee meeting that will be chaired by Kelly.

Neighbors opposed to the new project have seized on the death at the Claridge, with Xiomara Chambers, who lives at 1816 Darrow Ave., near the Church Street site, claiming it demonstrates that HODC “does not have a track record that is acceptable to this community.”

A review of Cook County Medical Examiner’s online records of unattended deaths by Evanston Now indicates about 60 cases have occurred in Evanston since the start of 2022 in which bodies were found in the dead person’s residence and the medical examiner’s office ruled they had died of natural causes or as a result of an accident or suicide.

It could not be determined from the records how long it may typically have taken for the body to be discovered in those cases.

The locations in which the unattended death were reported ranged from single family homes to upscale apartment developments.

Kelly has argued that HODC should be required to have an on-site manager at the Claridge.

Koenig says HODC does have on-site managers at its newer developments, and also plans to have one at the planned building on Church Street.

But he says financing agreements for the Claridge currently require that all 48 units be occupied by low income tenants. He says HODC has asked for permission to waive that rule to provide an on-site manager’s unit in the building but doesn’t have that approval yet.

Evanston Now placed a call to Kelly Friday morning seeking further comment. We’ll update the story if we hear from her.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. How long will the band aids for these issues last though? Will it be just long enough for the 44 unit building to be approved and then forgotten?

  2. We need that affordable housing and the fact that deaths occur in single family homes and upscale apartments shows the this is a problem of lack of community not of lack of oversight on affordable housing. The biggest issue is needing to provide inclusive training to those overseeing such properties so they know when intervention and wellness checks are reasonable.

    1. Gina, I think that’s the point of Councilwoman Kelly’s insistence on having on-site managers of these properties. The unfortunate deceased person would not have languished there if there was a manager present.
      Respectfully, Brian G. Becharas

      1. Brian, this is partly a result of the flawed “Housing First” model that Connections and other homeless services agencies are now required to follow in order to access HUD and other public funding…

        Homeless clients are housed *first*, regardless of their ability to successfully live independent lives; their health and psycho – social needs are more often than not ignored. But these agencies can claim “success” in housing clients in order to make their numbers for more funding…

        It’s a vicious cycle, and we as a society can do better… as it stands now, vulnerable people are just being “warehoused”…

        I know that Clare Kelly has been really involved in this in order to “do the right thing”, so kudos to her…!!!

        Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident…

  3. Huh, delay low income housing because some people die alone? Homeless people die in the street all the time …. Getting people off the street shouldn’t be delayed.

  4. …and now we find out the body in the building was a Connections client. They claim to do wellness checks, yet this body was left alone for weeks. I cannot imagine why our city thinks this is an organization that should be entrusted to run the Margarita Inn. Our council members need to clue in.

  5. Hum… this is an apartment building that happens to provide below market rental rates to those who need it. Should there be onsite staff monitoring every apartment building in every community. As unfortunate as this man’s death is, as the article states this situation happens every day in every place, town and city in America. Regardless of one’s social status. Stop using this man’s death to act like you are “doing the right thing” when you are really pushing your negative and offensive narrative.

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