Rudolph Williams, 73, has said he was at home in a Chicago suburb when he discovered that his apartment’s doors and windows had been boarded up, trapping him inside.
He told the Associated Press, “I didn’t know exactly what was going on,” describing how he tried to open his blocked door. “What the hell?”
His nephew posted the video, which has since gone viral, igniting fury from internet users about the renting circumstances at the deteriorating low-income apartment complex in Harvey, Illinois.
For months, the city has been aware of the complex’s obvious state of decline. Residents of one of the two buildings, which is without heat, rely on space heaters and stoves to stay warm.
People cannot pass through a collapsed set of stairs. There is rubbish all around the place, including broken furniture, a giant dumbbell, and liquor bottles. Numerous safety concerns including drugs and crime have also been reported. Harvey Police Chief Cameron Biddings reported that police were called to the property over 300 times last year.
City officials claim they asked the property owners, identified as Jay Patel and Henry Cho, to notify renters that they needed to vacate by October 28, however, several tenants claim they were not told.
According to a statement cited by the Independent, the city officials stated that they “did not evict anyone from these properties” but that they needed to “immediately rectify the dangerous living conditions.”
James Williams, a resident of the building and Williams’s nephew, added in the statement that he had to use a drill to pry his uncle out of the locked flat. He claimed to have seen notices about the construction spread around the building’s courtyard.
According to city officials, police had arrived at the facility last Friday to perform wellness checks, but they were gone before workmen arrived and started boarding it up. Because individuals were reportedly still inside, the renters tried to stop them, but the workers ignored them.
The property managers argue that the apartments were unoccupied before they began to board up units at the city’s request, and the property owners refute the tenants’ allegations that residents were boarded inside.
Chicago Style Management’s Tim Harstead refuted Williams’ story, claiming that workers identified one unauthorized person who left before they began boarding up units.
“A lot of people in that area are squatters and trying to stay there,” he contended.
No injuries were recorded. Genevieve Tyler, who said she was recently let off from her meat factory work, told the outlet she was at home when she heard noises outside and ran to a second door in her apartment, hoping to escape because she suspected a break-in. That’s when she said she noticed crews boarding up her windows.
“I feel sick,” she said, adding that she was too scared to return home for two days. “I’m still sad.”
On Monday, Mayor Christopher Clark and other municipal officials toured the complex. In a series of interviews, Clark grudgingly admitted that individuals had not yet left their homes when they began to be closed, but he insisted that he preferred to speak with them in person as opposed to seeing videos on social media.
The city had no role in boarding up the apartments, he added, promising that city police would investigate and possibly refer the case to the state’s attorney or the Illinois attorney general. He claimed that the criticism leveled against the city on social media was misguided.
One of the few flats that wasn’t boarded up is occupied by Mary Brooks, 66.
She identified herself as a homeless mental health patient who has survived cancer and has nowhere else to turn. She also complained to the mayor on Monday when he paid her a visit at her house, stating that in the nearly four years that she has lived there, she has attempted to contact local officials on several occasions regarding the complex.
“Nobody pays attention to the poor,” she lamented. “Nobody cares until something happens.”