Investigation after video shows Black man being boarded up in his home

Some tenants say they were not informed they needed to evacuate the building

Julia Reinstein
Friday 12 January 2024 16:29 GMT
Tenants boarded up while still in Illinois apartments

An elderly Black man was boarded up inside his Chicago-area apartment, sparking outrage and promises of an investigation.

In now-viral videos of the incident — which occurred on Friday in suburban Harvey, Illinois — the apartment complex is seen covered in plywood.

Rudolph Williams, 73, told the Associated Press he was still inside his home when he discovered his door and windows had been boarded up, trapping him in the apartment.

“I didn’t know exactly what was going on,” he said. “What the hell?”

City officials, citing safety concerns about the dilapidated building, reportedly directed the property owners to inform tenants they had to clear out by Oct. 28 — but some tenants said they were not notified.

In a statement, officials said they “did not evict anyone from these properties” but that they needed to “immediately rectify the dangerous living conditions.”

Rudolph Williams in his apartment on Monday 8 January 2024, in Harvey, Illinois (AP)

Mr Williams’s nephew, James Williams, who also lives in the building, said he had to use a drill to get his uncle out of the boarded-up apartment. He said he’d seen notices about the work scattered haphazardly around the building’s courtyard.

On Friday, police showed up to the building to conduct wellness checks, city officials said but had left before workers showed up and began boarding it up. Tenants reportedly tried to stop the workers, warning that people were still inside, but say they were ignored.

The property management company denied these claims, telling the AP no tenants remained inside when workers began boarding it up.

A spokesperson for the property owners denied that Mr Williams is a tenant, saying he was evicted in July, and said the “viral allegations regarding tenants being boarded into their apartments are categorically false.”

Apartments boarded up while tenants were still inside in Harvey, Illinois (AP)

But Mayor Christopher Clark said the tenants’ claims were true, acknowledging people had indeed still been in their homes when the work began, and said the matter would be investigated.

The property owners purchased the building in Feb. 2023, the spokesperson said, and they were “surprised by the city’s notice to immediately have the building vacated to begin structural repairs to the staircases, but we were committed to following their guidance and promptly rectifying any issues for the safety of the residents.”

“We aimed to treat the tenants with as much respect and consideration as possible, given the difficult and unexpected circumstances they were facing — including negotiating with the city to prolong the evacuation time, swiftly notifying the residents through various channels, as well as offering concessions to try to aid in this challenging transition,” the spokesperson said.

One resident, Genevieve Tyler, said she’d been home when she heard noises she initially thought was a break-in. She ran out the door and then discovered her windows were being boarded up.

“I feel sick,” she said. “I’m still sad.”

Another tenant, Mary Brooks, 66, said she has tried to contact city officials about the building’s condition several times in almost four years.

“Nobody pays attention to the poor,” she said. “Nobody cares until something happens.”

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