Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more information from First Ward Council Member Clare Kelly.

First responders found the body of a 62-year-old man “in an advanced state of decomposition” Feb. 15 at the Claridge Hotel Apartments on Dempster Street, according to an Evanston Police death investigation.

The RoundTable only recently learned of the death, which the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office has already determined was from natural causes and the result of cardiovascular disease.

The front face of HODC's Claridge Hotel Apartments building on Dempster St., where a body was found Wednesday, Feb. 15.
Claridge Hotel Apartments building on Dempster Street, where a body was found Wednesday, Feb. 15. Credit: Housing Opportunity Development Corporation

But in talking with First Ward Council Member Clare Kelly, the RoundTable also learned that tenants in the building had been complaining to management and to Kelly’s office about “an unusual smell” coming from the man’s second floor unit for at least two weeks before anyone entered his apartment.

Kelly said she was contacted weeks ago by renters living in the building, many of whom are clients of Connections for the Homeless.

“Residents at The Claridge contacted me as far back as late January about a strange and very foul odor that was permeating the building and seemed to be coming from the walls,” Kelly told the RoundTable in an email on Thursday, March 2. “At least one resident brought their complaints of this foul odor to HODC management but their concerns were dismissed and not taken seriously.”

(The Claridge building, which provides 48 units below market rate for low-income people in Evanston, is owned and operated by local nonprofit Housing Opportunity Development Corporation (HODC).

Yet, it was two weeks later that a maintenance worker conducting a well-being check and ultimately discovered the body.

Kelly and Third Ward Council Member Melissa Wynne were upset enough about the time it took to check on the man that they wrote a joint email to Mayor Daniel Biss on Feb. 17. But it was not the first time that both women had complained to Biss, as well as to City Manager Luke Stowe.

The joint letter read: “Certainly you’re aware of the most recent horrific news out of the Claridge at 319 Dempster from this week. … This very unfortunately reflects an ongoing pattern of neglect and disregard for the safety and wellbeing of the low income (and homeless) residents who are tenants at this HODC establishment.”

Kelly and Wynne went on to ask Biss for his help in securing round-the-clock management at the Claridge building. Neither Biss nor Stowe responded to a RoundTable request for comment.

Ever since she was elected in 2021, Kelly has fielded complaints about noise, violence and other problems at the Claridge, she said. Among other incidents, a woman living in the building was hospitalized in January for lacerations to the face and a broken wrist from a domestic assault.

Over the past two years, Kelly has met “several times” with Connections for the Homeless, HODC Executive Director Richard Koenig, Interim Community Development Director Sarah Flax and Wynne to request more oversight of the property, she said.

“Just a week after Council Member Wynne and I again insisted on onsite management at The Claridge, a body of advanced decomposition was removed from this building,” Kelly said. “And even a week later, after the removal of the body, the odor, as told to me by Council Member Burns who visited the building, continued to be overwhelmingly repulsive. Nobody should have to live in these conditions.”

Affordable housing vs. shelters

In a call Wednesday evening, Koenig said the Claridge has a management team and maintenance staff that are frequently in the building, and one of those workers decided to check on the tenant after growing concerned about the smell.

Nia Tavoularis, chief development officer for Connections, added that 24-hour staff and support services typically are provided only at shelters and “project-based supportive housing.” She said the Claridge is simply an apartment building like any other, with units reserved for low-income residents.

“The people we serve are all medically vulnerable. We do lose a lot of clients because they haven’t had health care,” Tavoularis said. “They check all the boxes of people who have not been served well by the American health care system.”

Still, Kelly said she is pushing for the city and HODC to provide a management office somewhere in the building to provide support when necessary. Koenig, though, said all units in the building are occupied, so the Claridge does not currently have any space for an office, which he called “not necessary.”

Tavoularis could not confirm on Wednesday if the man who died was a client of Connections. EPD, the medical examiner and city officials would not identify him by name, but described him as a 62-year-old African American man.

HODC runs about 30 affordable housing properties in the Chicago area, according to its website. The organization also recently received approval from the Evanston Land Use Commission to build a new 44-unit, five-story affordable housing project at the corner of Church Street and Darrow Avenue in the Fifth Ward.

At a Land Use meeting on the project last week, neighbors voiced strong opposition to the development, with longtime Fifth Ward resident Carlis Sutton calling HODC’s plans “a Trojan horse” that would ultimately prove detrimental to the neighborhood. 

“It’s really upsetting to us that he passed away,” Koenig said, adding that he took “solace” in the fact that “we did what we could to give him a decent, safe place to live.”

Matt Simonette contributed reporting to this story.

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. This is the same managing group that wants to build a 44-unit affordable building on the corner of church and Darrow! This is the same company Evanston is giving 5 million in taxpayer money to do this project! We shouldn’t let a company with a bad reputation take over our neighbors and a wealthy company like this shouldn’t need taxpayers’ money to build this building! Oh, and by the way, the land they want to build on is contaminated if that does not show that they don’t care what happens after the building is been built as long as their pockets are getting filled I don’t know what else does!

  2. What a tragic story! I can only guess that the foul odor came from ptomaines. This is the ‘smell of death.’ I can’t describe it, but will always recognize it when I smell it. We might have evolved to have this reaction. I know that one reliable source of ptomaines is decomposition of red blood in the absence of sufficient oxygen. Death isn’t a prerequisite for this sourcing of ptomaines. It might be useful for more people to somehow be educated in the odor of ptomaines, so that they will recognize it and call authorities right away, instead of wondering and waiting.

  3. I do believe that the remarks are questionable. After Connections residents are housed they still
    Should have case workers. If they are very vulnerable people without a treatment program, they should not be housed in “regular” housing without support. If they get no post-housing support (caseworkers) after the exit the Margarita, there is a large chance they are not ready to live in a “normal”
    Apartment building. Post- exit care of their residents is something I would like to know more about.

    1. I agree with you. I would like to know more about if Connections has conditions that people have to meet before living on their own. And if they have jobs and independence when ‘graduating’ to their own apartment, or if they’re placed there and Connections pays their rent. Those are very different scenarios.

      1. Ms. Pink, I am a former Connections employee. Connections (like all publicly – funded homeless services agencies) follows the federally – mandated HUD “Housing First” policy, which requires clients to be immediately housed, whether “ready or not”; many are not yet equipped with the “life skills” and psycho – social and health supports for successful independent living…

        Years ago I worked at Streetwise, a homeless services agency in Uptown Chicago. The city initiated a “rapid rehousing” program to house 30 homeless living in various tent encampments in the area. They all very quickly got housing – and a year later, 18 of the 30 had lost that housing, being evicted for various lease violations, e.g. violence, disruptive behavior, drugs, “filth”, etc… they were not yet prepared for “independent living”, and Streetwise made *no* efforts to prepare them – but Streetwise could boast of “success” in housing these 30 people, thus getting more funding.

        “Housing First” thus IMO is a very flawed policy. It does *not* address the underlying causes of homelessness, e.g. lack of work skills, poor physical/mental health, lack of social supports, etc… it’s akin to treating a tumor with a Band – Aid…

        Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

        1. I work in mental health services and can confirm the “housing first” model does nothing but allow people with addiction issues a safe place to keep doing what they are doing. Addiction is complicated. Sadly many have passed away in the same manner this gentleman has, with no one around to call for help.

  4. To call it “an apartment building like any other” is incorrect to say the least.
    Connections rapidly rehouses their tenants in multiple buildings exactly like this one. They have a duty to continue to care for them upon rapid rehousing of them. If they do not, these vulnerable persons will end up at risk.

  5. If Connections et al can’t manage The Claridge, how on earth are they going to handle the Margirita Inn?

    1. Please read any story carefully. The story clearly states that this is an affordable housing building and that some of the renters are clients of Connections. It also says that the building is owned and operated by local nonprofit Housing Opportunity Development Corporation (HODC), which has no role in the Margarita Inn. Susy Schultz, editor.

      1. Ms. Schultz, it is strikingly unprofessional for an editor to consistently put themselves in the midst of readers’ comments as you do, especially when you miss the very clear “et al” in what I wrote. The article states that Councilmember Kelly has met with Connections to press for oversight for the Claridge. You, as editor, consistently run interference for certain organizations and council members in how you manage this comment section—the community would be better served if you stopped.

        1. Dear Sir, I think you don’t know much about my profession as this is how you make a community comment section safe for more people to enter. By making sure everyone provides a full name, that they stay away from personal attacks (I’m letting yours slide as it’s aimed at me) and keeping everyone on track with the facts. Your “et al” didn’t cover your misstatement. And when there are difficult issues, facts matter. I advocate for respectful dialogue and debate. And the fact we have had an increase over the last year of 160% in our comment section says something. More people feel comfortable coming here. Thanks for your feedback. Susy Schultz, editor

          1. Hank Williams has a valid point. How can Connections be expected to do a good job at the Margarita given it’s comments about the Claridge not needling any on-site management, in the face of the two-week problem at the Claridge?

  6. I’m tired of the angry blame game engaged in by attention seekers trying to exploit this sad event. Helping unhoused folks get into apartments also involves giving them the respect of some independence, not micro managing their lives. For whatever reason the man had untended heart issues. He died. Sad story number one. But Connections is not to blame for that. Should any landlord do a wellness check earlier than 15 days after a stink reaches the hallway? Probably. But we don’t need another law to create more policing for that to happen.

    1. Yes, the clients of HODC and Connections deserve the opportunity to live independently. In my opinion, that isn’t mutually exclusive to providing adequate oversight for what both organizations describe as a vulnerable population.
      One can only imagine the trauma this situation causes for remaining residents of the Claridge. This gentleman may have passed from natural causes, but no one should suffer the indifference and indignity described in this article.

  7. Now that we have a new (deeply flawed) shared housing licensing procedure, keep an eye on the Operating Agreement between Connections and the city re: Margarita Inn that will come up for vote soon. I have no confidence in this council (sans Kelly) to hold their feet to the fire and require more than just a “set it and forget it” mentality with their clients.

    I partially blame the many donors to Connections that aren’t holding them accountable as well. Too many buy whatever Connections is selling them even though it means situations like this will continue as they shape Evanston into the homeless capital of Northern Illinois. Connections will only listen to those that control their budget including the individual donors, Cook County ($5mm given to CftH in 2021), and other cities like Skokie that pay Connections to house some of their homeless that aren’t even from Evanston.

    On a related note, has anyone seen CftH’s financials for FY22 (ended 6/30/22)? They should be due and published by now, 8 months after year end and are conspicuously missing from their website. The Rountable should find out why.

  8. This article is further evidence that there are serious leadership problems at the City of Evanston and on the City Council and our community should be concerned.

    How can a human body be allowed to decompose for more than 2 weeks with residents complaining of the odor and no action be taken by Police, the Health Department and others? It’s very sad. Systems are broken and management appears to be awol.

    There is an election coming up and residents should choose new leaders that will respond to these difficult challenges. Ald. Kelly needs support and that isn’t coming from the Mayor or others on the Council who are asleep at the wheel.

    Real residents are suffering injury resulting from poor policy and even less engagement with community. The current City Manager is not equipped to manage this City and instead of addressing these short comings our Mayor is enabling the blame game.

    The sexual harassment scandal, the Black employee complaints, Maugurita Inn, Animal Shelter cost overruns, Beach ADA cost overruns, millons of dollars misspent, Northwestern’s unreasonable zoning demands – from the outside looking in it’s like a drunk driver weaving all over the road.

    We need responsible leaders that can put people first. We need responsible City staff that love this community and who have empathy for our residents. 80% of City staff and 90% of our Police Officers live outside of Evanston. I continue to maintain that these are serious factors concerning City operations. The fabric of our community is badly torn.

    Evanston deserves better and my hope is that residents will VOTE and make their voices heard. We must choose better leaders.

  9. “The people we serve are all medically vulnerable. We do lose a lot of clients because they haven’t had health care,” Tavoularis said. “They check all the boxes of people who have not been served well by the American health care system.”

    This sounds like an unfortunate result of the flawed “Housing First” model that Connections for the Homeless and other HUD – funded homeless services agencies adhere to in housing their homeless clients. Homeless clients are first housed, but then there is generally no follow – up regarding their well – being by these agencies. Yet these homeless services agencies count these placements as a “success” – for which they get even *more* funding…

    Ms. Tavoularis’ statement *should* read:

    “They check all the boxes of people who have not been served well by the American homeless services system.”

    In this case a gentleman died alone, apparently because no one “bothered” to check up on him, despite his apparent poor health issues… this is not a real good “advertisement” for the “extensive wrap – around services” that many homeless services agencies continually boast of…

    I commend Council members Clare Kelly and Melissa Wynne for their integrity in trying to follow up with this matter. If HODC and any other involved parties had done their initial “due diligence”, this tragedy might have been averted…

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  10. I think the real question is why did management not respond to concerns timely. What are landlord obligation here… and any rental properties. Need.more info on landlord obligations. Hope to hear more.