Tenants Demand Change After Boy Injured in West Pullman Fire

on Aug29
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2019-08-29 18:11:02

Three weeks after a boy suffered burns to 90% of his body in an apartment fire, tenants of his building are demanding that the owner and manager make repairs, and they’re pointing to a federal inspection report that gave the building a failing grade, in terms of conditions there.

Residents at the Indian Trails Apartments at 221 East 121st Place in Chicago’s West Pullman neighborhood say they’ve been living too long with water damage, mold, expired safety inspections, and electrical and rodent issues.  They say they’ve been trying for a year now to meet with the building manager and the owner of the complex, who, they say, does not live in the Chicago area.

NBC5 reached out to the building’s manager, The Habitat Company, which has not responded to requests for comments.

 “I cannot even have my kids live here because of the unsafe and unhealthy conditions,” said Tanisha Jones, who is leading the West Pullman Tenants Association, a group formed to lobby for improvements. 

A December 13, 2016 inspection by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave Indian Trails Apartments a score of 31 out of 100, with 60 points needed to pass, according to a HUD inspection database maintained by the independent journalism organization ProPublica.  HUD inspectors take off points if they find “such problems as mold, infestation, broken doors and windows, tripping hazards and graffiti,” according to ProPublica. (The average HUD inspection score for buildings in Illinois is 85.2.)

On August 9th, a fire broke out inside a second-floor apartment at the building, engulfing a 13-year-old boy who was rushed to University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital with second- and third-degree burns to 90% of his body.  One witness told NBC5 that she saw the boy run out of the apartment covered in “flames [from] head to toe.” A baby, a ten-year-old, their mother and a firefighter were also taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The boy has since had multiple surgeries, and may spend the next year in the hospital, according to representatives of the tenants’ group.

“While we do not know the cause of the fire, we do know that conditions at Indian Trails Apartments are deplorable,” said Jones in a press conference at the apartment complex today.

In a statement, the Chicago Fire Department said its investigation into the fire “could only determine the cause as open flame ignition, however it did not determine building infrastructure or electrical issues as a factor in the fire.”

According to ProPublica records, the conditions at Indian Trails Apartments have declined steadily over the past few years.  A HUD inspection in August of 2013 scored the apartment complex at 59 — one point below passing. An inspection in January of 2015 lowered the score to 50, and an April, 2016 inspection lowered the score again, to 35, before the 31 score in December of 2016.  

Tenant activists say that HUD has promised to re-inspect the property.  “The tenants hope HUD will use its powers to force the owners and management to make repairs,” according to an association spokesman.

NBC5 Investigates has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see details of the December, 2016 inspection, which was released in January of 2017.

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