A view of the rear of the 5318 S. Kenneth residential building, with purported safety hazards circled by the Archer Heights Civic Association. The CTA Orange Line tracks are in the background. --Supplied photo

A view of the rear of the 5318 S. Kenneth residential building, with purported safety hazards circled by the Archer Heights Civic Association. The CTA Orange Line tracks are in the background. --Supplied photo

‘A tragedy that’s waiting to happen’

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Civic group demands action on condos

By Tim Hadac

Four condominium buildings on the south end of Archer Heights pose a threat to the safety of the men, women and children living there, a civic leader said this week.

“I see those buildings and I see a tragedy that’s waiting to happen,” Archer Heights Civic Association President Thomas S. Baliga told the Greater Southwest News-Herald. “The safety of the people living there is in jeopardy, and the clock is ticking.”

The buildings are 5312, 5314, 5316 and 5318 S. Kenneth. Each has four units, one atop the other—garden units up through third floor. They were built in the early 1990s on old railroad property, roughly the same time the CTA Orange Line was constructed. Orange Line tracks are a stone’s throw south of the four buildings.

GSWNH 5318Kenneth 111122

A view of the rear of the 5318 S. Kenneth residential building, with purported safety hazards circled by the Archer Heights Civic Association. The CTA Orange Line tracks are in the background. –Supplied photo

The AHCA has voiced concerns about the quartet of buildings in years past, but in recent months has turned up the heat, leaning on 23rd Ward Silvana Tabares and Lightfoot Administration officials to address what Baliga has described as Building Code and Fire Code violations that make the buildings unsafe at best, uninhabitable at worst.

A look at the rear of the buildings shows back exits that are boarded up with plywood or blocked up with cinderblocks cemented together. Several months ago, one unit’s rear exit was even blocked by a refrigerator. Another unit’s rear access is blocked by clutter that includes a heavy ladder.

“Those units should have at least two entrances/exits,” Baliga said. “What if there’s a fire in the middle of the night and the front doors are blocked by fire or thick smoke? How do they get out? We can’t wait for that to happen. That’s why we’re demanding action now.”

The buildings may also be in violation of the Building Code, a city inspector said at a status hearing last week. The furnaces in the building vent to the outside not via the roof, but via the side walls. That normally might not be a concern, except that the four buildings are unusually close to each other.

At last week’s hearing, an attorney from the city’s Corporation Counsel Office directed city inspectors to meet with the building’s owners early next month to do a comprehensive inspection of each unit. Attorneys representing the buildings’ owners also were directed to have their clients present at the inspections.

The date next month is designed to address a common complaint of inspectors: that when they arrive, they often do not have the access they need to all parts of the building.

Baliga added that the four buildings “should never have been built, or at least not built as close to each other as they were.”

He praised Tabares for putting pressure on City Hall to move the matter forward and said she is doing “a very good job” thus far.

The alderman has in the past said she is concerned about the state of the four buildings and has pledged to ‘keep working on it.”

Neighbors have also complained to the AHCA about abandoned vehicles parked behind the buildings, as well as a proliferation of weed bushes and saplings.

A Greater Southwest News-Herald request for comment by the buildings’ owners drew no response this week.

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