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.
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.