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Connections rejects alternate shelter site

Connections for the Homeless, in a strongly worded letter to city officials, has rejected the idea of ​​relocating its shelter operations from the Margarita Inn downtown to a site on Howard Street.

The Howard Street location was proposed by owners of property on either side of the Margarita, located at 1566 Oak Ave.

Larry Starkman of Wesley Realty Group, which owns the Oak Crest Apartments at 1570 Oak Ave., has proposed an apartment building he owns at 565 Howard St. as the alternate homeless shelter site.

The Margarita Inn,1566 Oak Ave., center, flanked by the Halim Museum at 1560 Oak on the left and the Oak Crest Apartments at 1570 Oak on the right. (Google Maps image)

And Nefrette Halim, whose family owns the Halim Time & Glass Museum at 1560 Oak, has proposed adding the parking lot her family owns across Clyde Avenue from Starkman’s building as a possible site for a new-construction facility for Connections.

Starkman claims he’s been told by Michael Pure, the owner of the Margarita, that Connections will pay Pure $7.75 million to buy the Margarita, roughly three times the $2.68 million current estimated market value assigned to the Margarita by the Cook County Assessor’s office.

And he says he’d be willing to take a tax loss on the sale of his property — which the assessor now values ​​at $2.45 million.

Connections Executive Director Betty Bogg has declined to specify what the organization has agreed to pay Pure for the Margarita.

Halim says both Wesley Realty and her family own other properties on the block of Clyde north of Howard, so they would still have Connections as a neighbor if the Howard Street site were used.

But she says it would reduce the negative impact she claims the Margarita has had on downtown businesses and would still provide convenient access to public transit for Connections clients — with the Howard CTA station about a quarter mile to the east.

But Bogg, in her letter included in the packet for Wednesday’s Land Use Commission hearing on Connections’ special use permit application for continued use of the Margarita, says the former hotel on Oak Avenue “is, by far, the best facility available.”

“The sheer cost in time and money of these alternate proposals, even with reduced purchase prices, makes them unviable,” Bogg says.

She says the group would have to duplicate expenses it has already incurred trying to win approval for the Margarita site and would risk “the goodwill of our supporters who want us to be at the Margarita Inn.”

She also says splitting the shelter between multiple buildings would add to operating costs.

And she notes that another organization, Northside Housing and Supportive Services, has plans for a new shelter at 7464 N. Clark St., just a block south of the Evanston border.

Boggs adds, “It does not make sense to move the shelter from a highly functional and unique location that is ready to use, and happens to be located in a pirmarily white neighborhood, to a primarily black, high-poverty neighborhood.”

“This proposal,” she says, “perpetuates both segregation and inequity in how Evanston serves its residents and where they can live.”

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