Just a few minutes ago, Blairmont finally brought me to the point of tears.
We were driving down Montgomery, west of our official neighborhood but not far from our house at all. We were driving down this one block and Michael was going “That’s Blairmont. That’s Blairmont.” And he was pointing to these unsecured vacant buildings and telling me that Sheridan Place LLC (a relatively new Blairmont company) owned them. They pretty much had the whole block. That in itself is a horrifying and saddening thought, given that they are unwilling to do even the most basic steps of admitting who they are and boarding their buildings up. I felt pretty awful, at that point.
But then, we got to the end of the block. Montgomery and Slattery.
There was another small-ish brick house, just like the rest of the block. This little building had been lovingly maintained, but there was graffiti on the side. We got closer, I started reading (and this is approximate.... I was too overwhelmed to even think to write it down): WALKER FAMILY THANKS YOU FOR 51 YEARS. And there were names.... JAMYLAH DADDY TOBY and dozens of names. On the house, the sidewalk, the fence.... graffiti about leaving this beloved old family house.
I don’t know this for a fact, but given that pretty much the rest of the block is already owned by a new Blairmont company, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to guess that this family was pressured into selling to Blairmont. And they just, just freshly sold (There were fresh cardboard moving boxes in the alley and everything). The more time we spent at that corner, the clearer the picture became: They tried, they tried to hang on, but as I know from having lived on a block where a careless megaspeculator is actively buying, with each house the speculator snaps up, the worse your quality of life gets, the lower your safety is, and the less your building is worth. I know that cold feeling, the huddling with your last neighbors and talking about how “It got so dangerous since they bought up those last two and let them sit wide open, but they made it so bad nobody is buying but them.”
And so, people sell. It looks like the Walker family had to give up.
Lately, I have been hearing little rumors and peeps here and there around the Near North Side that certain parts of the area where Blairmont buys are “blighted” or on the verge of “getting eminent domained.” The story goes that the whole area is about to get blighted so you won’t get to keep your home or shop anymore. People have heard that if they didn’t fix up all of their code violations right away, they would get blighted or eminent domained. And the story ends with the property owners being told that they better sell now. I have no way of confirming where these rumors are coming from, but it is curious to me that they pop up with property owners who own in pockets where Blairmont is very actively trying to buy, and/or who know people who have had some form of (direct or indirect) contact with a Blairmont agent lately.
Imagine having one of the last little outposts on your block. Imagine your block changing as all the other homes were bought up, one by one, and they became vacant and were totally unsecured. The neighbors that you knew left. Imagine all those dark unboarded windows and doors staring you in the face. The noises at night. Maybe you try calling the City to file a report that the buildings around you have been left wide open by their owners, but the owners do nothing and the buildings stay dangerously, gapingly, mockingly open. Imagine watching your block disintegrate.
The block where your family has lived for 51 years. The home where generations of your family have grown up.
Imagine watching this slow and awful disintegration of the place of your family’s history--this sledgehammering by willful neglect, this slow steady burn of silence and secrecy. And all the while, someone has been talking to you, telling you they can cut you a check if you would just take it and abandon the house, abandon your place. And then, you hear a rumor that your area has been blighted, so pretty soon you won’t even be able to keep your house (and oh they won’t admit it yet but you better sell now while you can).
How do you think that would feel?
I know how I felt just looking at the Walker home, with all those names on the walls making it one of the most beloved and moving monuments in Blairmont’s growing cemetery.
We drove around the corner, reading the graffiti, the story slowly unraveling itself before us. And just as we got around the corner, we saw that this house that had obviously just been sold already had that hallmark of Blairmont & Co property ownership: the wide open, gaping door not even pretending to be boarded or locked. And at that point, my eyes filled up with hot, wet tears and my throat hurt.
Like I said, I don’t know for a fact that it’s owned by Blairmont/Sheridan Place. But the picture that the block and the rumors and Blairmont’s past behavior paint is pretty clear. And on the teensy, tiny, microscopic chance that it was not Blairmont/Sheridan Place who bought out the Walker family, Blairmont/Sheridan’s recent purchase and blatant neglect of most of the other structures on the block no doubt played a very strong role in the Walkers’ decision to leave their home.
Blairmont has crossed a line. They did not cross it tonight. They crossed it a long time ago. The whole idea of a Blairmont is crossing a line. The very idea of buying up entire neighborhoods of people who are much, much poorer and less powerful than you (Whoever it is, clearly they are more powerful and many, many times richer than us) and then not even admitting that you own it is crossing a line. Refusing to so much as board up your buildings and keep them from burning down—in some cases, refusing to lock already extant doors that already have good locks on them but that you have simply not closed and locked—is crossing a line. Buying up building after building that you have absolutely no intention of maintaining is crossing a line, especially when you are doing so in an area that is blatantly Someone Else’s Neighborhood and the problems are not ones that you yourself will have to live with every day. Deliberately trying to use multiple names and representatives to hide the fact that you own and are buying this property is crossing a line. Benefiting from false rumors about blighting that will not happen is crossing a line, and if you started those rumors, that was crossing a line, too.
That is a lot of transgressions, there--a lot of steps across the line of common decency and respect for other human beings.
To me, besides the obvious basic safety and human welfare problems that are cropping up from such widespread, deliberate neglect of so many properties, the sickest thing of all about this is the fact that we really want development up here on the North Side. Oh god, do we want it. I have been watching this place ever since I was a tiny kid, and I know how much we need the development up here. So why can’t Blairmont just tell us who they are? Is it that hard to put some names to the entity that is the second largest property owner in our ward? Or just a couple of boards on some of those doors and windows that have gotten and stayed open since Blairmont bought the buildings, maybe prevent a fire or three? Isn’t our safety worth that? It just seems so particularly cruel to do this in an area where people are so poor and so disempowered. Why lie to someone who probably can’t do much about it even if you tell them the truth? Of all the people to pick on....
WALKER FAMILY THANKS YOU FOR 51 YEARS.
I got tears in my eyes when I saw that house tonight.
And then I sat down and wrote this.
I got to thinking about all the elected and appointed officials whose words hold so much more power than mine, who have yet to make one single, solitary public statement about Blairmont.
And I got to thinking about the way that Blairmont and Company apparently think that it is acceptable for them to treat the human beings who live in my part of the City.
And I wept.