Long-time street performer being evicted from his home
By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Ronald L. Grant, known in the neighborhood as “Ron the Piper” or “The Bard of Hyde Park,” is in danger of being forced from his home and the community. He was given a 30-day moving notice and must vacate his apartment by New Year’s Eve.
Grant is a 72-year-old street performer and Vietnam War veteran who has lived in Hyde Park for 25 years. During his time in the neighborhood, he has been active in getting the practice of street performing legalized. In recent years, he has played harp at Salonica, 1440 E. 57th St., on Saturday evenings.
In an interview, he told the Herald that he continues to perform throughout the neighborhood. His face lit up as he talked about how he is able to get birds to sing back to him and how happy children are to see him play music.
But the stress his housing situation is putting him through is causing Grant to distance himself from it.
“I’ve been losing my music progressively. I’ve been feeling kind of depressed and I don’t play my music as much as I used to,” he explained. “That is affecting me because music is my life. So I need a place that I can walk into the ground level, play my music and do my art and things like that — quietly, the same as I’m doing here.”
Grant has rented a basement studio apartment in Wooded Isle Apartments, 5736-5762 S. Stony Island Ave., since moving to the neighborhood. He said the makeshift units were created years ago to make space for artists throughout the city.
“Landlords would cheap-out on the apartments by calling them ‘artist studios,’ so they could run something as an apartment that was not normally legal to rent as a real apartment,” he said.
Grant describes the basement units as “cheap, scrubby living quarters; unfinished brick walls, bare concrete floors, primitive installations of cooking stoves, fridges, showers and toilets.” He lives without heat and pays for electricity and gas. He continues to stay there because the rent is cheaper, he is able to live independently as someone who is disabled (he has post-traumatic stress disorder and was exposed to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam), and he wants to stay connected to Hyde Park.
Grant has seen ownership change several times. The building is currently managed by PRG/Two Blue Property Management, who have been managing it for a year and a half. In August, after complaining to his current landlord about pests and other issues with his unit, he received an email from the property manager that stated that he had to leave his unit by Aug. 31. The property manager offered him $1,000 to assist with moving.
Shocked by the email, Grant insisted that the landlord give him more time to leave, given the number of items that he collected for the past 25 years and the time he needed to move them. The landlord moved the deadline for him to leave a few times until he was ordered to leave by the end of of the month — though, according to Grant, the landlord has not started the legal process for eviction.
Grant mentioned that he was not the only tenant living in the basement. He talked to other tenants after receiving the email, and they told him they have not received the same notice as he did. Grant believes that they are pushing him out because of his complaints about the state of the building.
Grant has been working with a social worker at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, 820 S. Damen Ave., to look for another apartment in or around Hyde Park, but he has not been able to find anything yet.
“The places I have found are either not suitable because of the steps, the size or because of the shooting good time neighborhoods they’re located in,” he said. “I haven’t found anything that would even be as large as the place I have now or the same type of environment.”
He wants to leave his apartment because it negatively impacts his quality of life, but he is afraid that he will not be able to find proper housing in or around the neighborhood on such short notice. He must find a place that is accessible, since he gets around using a walker, and a place that won’t eat up his disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs, his sole source of income.
“The stress that I’m going through affects my speech,” he said. “It makes it hard for me to speak, hard for me to think.” He is worried that the stress will lead him to be hospitalized.
William Spielberger, a civil rights and housing attorney whom Grant met during his time in Vietnam, has agreed to represent Grant. He said he will file a lawsuit to stop the eviction.
“There are three things,” Spielberger said. “One is to stop the eviction. Number two is to get him money to make up for the harm that they’re causing, and three is to send a message that the landlord can’t operate this way.”
Spielberger will look into filing a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights on the basis of discrimination against someone with a disability, because the landlord has not found an accommodation for Grant’s documented disability.
He also finds it alarming that Grant did not have proper heating during the winter months, as it violates the city’s Heat Ordinance, which states that all rental residences are required to be at least 68 degrees from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and at least 66 degrees from 10:30 p.m. to 8:30 between Sept. 15 through June 1, regardless of the reason for lack of heat.
When asked for a comment, Austin Pearso, of PRG/Two Blue Property Management said, “We have been working side-by-side with a caseworker, and we will continue to work with Mr. Grant to resolve any issues. The 60 to 90 days that he requested has more than elapsed. He asked for 60 to 90 days, we gave it to him, and he still hasn’t moved out.”
Pearson alluded to other unresolved issues that involve Grant being given a 30-day notice to leave, but said “that is a private matter between the tenant and the landlord.”
Freelancer Mrinalini Pandey contributed.