Civic Center apartment rental 'just nuts'

Evanston aldermen this week called a halt to staff plans to keep tenants in an apartment on the Civic Center grounds who've fallen several thousand dollars behind on their rent payments.

The city leased the apartment at 1223 Simpson St. in 2005 to Nolan and Norma Robinson but neglected to renew the the lease when it expired the following year.

City staffers say the Robinsons continued to pay rent on the apartment for a while, but by this spring were more than $4,000 behind when city staff became aware of the shortfall and tried to work out a repayment schedule with them.

"My suggestion is we send these people a 30-day notice to pay up or begin the eviction process," Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said at the City Council's Administration and Public Works Committee meeting Monday night.

"We spent a lot of money renovating this and bringing it up to code so it's very nice," Rainey said of the apartment, located on the second floor of the old boiler room building on the south side of the Civic Center site.

Noting that the staff proposed a new rent rate of $1,300 a month on the apartment, roughly twice what the tenants had paid under the old lease, Alderman Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward, asked, "Is there any reason to believe they'll be able to pay twice the rent they paid before?"

"We've been subsidizing them, that's what we've been doing," Wollin added.

"I managed property for 20 years," Rainey said, "I can tell you for sure these people cannot do this. You can't catch up with this if you're in their situation."

"They need to get a cheaper place. It's just nuts," she said. "I'd be willing to offer them $1,000 in moving expenses so they can move on. There is nothing supportive about allowing people to incur this kind of debt. It's very bad for them. They can never catch up."

The committee voted unanimously to reject the new lease agreement staff had proposed.

Comments

City staffers quality of work questionable

Nuts is right. There is so much wrong with this picture. 1) the failure to renew the lease in 2006, 2007, 2008!!! 2) the brilliant (sarcasm) idea of raising the rent two times higher than the previous UNPAID rent 3) the gall and audacity to even consider a new lease agreement.

I'd love to know which city staffers were responsible for all this. It is highly probable that this would not have happened in the private sector - management companies would be sending out notices within days after non-payment. The renters were almost 7 months behind in rent. Was there some kind of connection (family, friends, etc) between the renters and the city staffers? Were the city staffers reprimanded? The decisions they made and the failure to manage this one lease (in the same building they work in BTW) certainly needs a closer inspection. Based on these facts, I can't help but question the quality of these city staffers. How many other leases does the City of Evanston manage? What is the state of those leases? Are they properly managed and renewed? This would be an interesting story I'd love to read about.
Anonymous Al

Names

It is unfortunate that you published the names of these good people in your article. I believe you should have used more discretion. Please remove their names.

Thank you, Ann Rainey

Public Record

Ann Rainey says:

It is unfortunate that you published the names of these good people in your article. I believe you should have used more discretion. Please remove their names.

Thank you, Ann Rainey

This is not exactly confidential information, and I think that the residents of the city have a right to know who is getting nice rental deals from the city , and who owes money to the city.

Privacy is not an issue here. The people have every right to know exactly how public funds are being spent, and who is benefiting. On the other hand, individual citizens have every right to make anonymous posts on privately owned websites.

Anyone who wanted to know the name of the renters just needed to look at the agenda for the latest city council meeting, available online:


(A4)* Resolution 43-R-08 Authorizing the City Manager to Enter into a Lease for 1223 Simpson Street
Consideration of proposed resolution 43-R-08 authorizing the City Manager to enter into a lease with Norma and Nolan Robinson for the property at 1223 Simpson Street. For Action

rental

Ann Rainey

We are evicting these people, - I was at the meeting, remember? I know it is all public.
My thinking was this is public enough, out of kindness to the kids in the family , leave out the names in the article - why humiliate them because of their parents and the bad judgement of our staff?

You hide behind a screen name, I would certainly think you could understand why I would want to cut the children some slack.

Ann Rainey

kids aren't the issue

As much as I dislike Junad's conspiracy theories about special interests, in a case like this there might actually be something. Why were these people given such a good deal - was it just 'bad judgment of our staff', or was there something else? The only way to know is to put everything out in the open - not use kids as an excuse to keep things quiet.
I didn't know that the City of Evanston was in the business of renting apartments. How many other properties does the city rent? If any of these are at below market rates, why? Who lives there, and how were these tenants selected?
Enquiring minds want to know, and have a right to know.

Thanks Mr Who

Mr Who adventually you might understand what I am saying. There are somethings I can not print - you need to go to some of these meeting even if you sit in the back and say nothing - then you might learn what is really going on here!

council meetings

Junad - I can see the meetings on tv. I don't think that very much is gained by being in the room.

I think that the main reason to release all information is because I believe that it is the best way to prevent people from running around spreading crazy paranoid rumors. We have enough people in this country running around with tinfoil helmets complaining about the black helicopters or trilateral commission - and then there's that guy on Michigan Avenue with the kepi and sandwich boards warning us that Obama is a Russian spy. We don't need more of them in Evanston.

So Junad, I would like the city to make all information public, because that would make it easier for people like me to dig up the facts to discredit your accusations. ( Just like I have done with the GDR campaign! )

Mr Who here again you are not aware of what is going on here

Youre statement is off base - "Junad - I can see the meetings on tv. I don't think that very much is gained by being in the room."

You need to get out from behind your computer The council has committee meetings which are not on TV - that is where they discuss things and items will come up. There is more interaction with staff. Here again you do not understand how the city works - quoting newspaper articles you find on the internet - as fact shows us you do not understand - what is really going on here.

I doubt you have attended a committe meeting.

By the way staff takes minutes in those meetings - here again they filter out what is said - that I know from experience - so here again unless you attend the meetings you really do not know what is going on.

Youre statement " think that the main reason to release all information is because I believe that it is the best way to prevent people from running around spreading crazy paranoid rumors." All the information is available if you want it by Freedom of information requests - you can ask - but I will tell you staff if does not want to release something they will try to prevent it. They have told me in the past to go to court to get items. You are clean very unaware of what is going on here.

As we also know the closed sessions are another means to cover information - it is public record the council has not followed the law on some of those meetings - but their is no true penalty for their misconduct. ( here again you do not have all the information)

Here again I do not think you have discredited the GDR people - quoting a 1959 newspaper article - we are dealing with events occurring 50 years later here - not a second hand story - print several generations ago.

For all we know you could be one of those people standing out on Michigan ave looking for aliens? Or in downtown Evanston coming up to people and asking for change?

what isn't on the record

"There are somethings I can not print - you need to go to some of these meeting even if you sit in the back and say nothing - then you might learn what is really going on here!"

Junad -- With your call for openness, why can't you be descriptive of what you actually see? It is happening in a public venue. I am sure that, to some extent, you are correct that there are things that do not come across over the cable. You would not see who was rolling their eyes when another Alderman spoke. Or who might be whispering to a colleague, either supportive or in opposition to something else going on. I ge it that there is probably value in being present to be able to understand the tone of the meeting. However, is there something substantial going on that is being missed? Are staff cuttng deals while Council is deliberating? Are there contractors and special interests in the audience giving hand signals to the Aldermen about how to proceed on issues? No, of course I do not think that is the case. So why are you engaging in "I know something you don't know?"

What isn't in the record

I am not saying I go to every meeting - but what I am saying if you do not go to all the meetings that are not on TV - you are not getting a complete picture.
There is alot more to things that what is here on the internet. There are many things here that are not being recorded also there are alot of items that Bill Smith is not publishing for lack of time. ( he is doing us a great service here by the way)

Let me give you an example years ago I went to a district 65 business meeting I was the only community member present - on a saturday in the am. I was interesting in thier live safety issues. Business manageer states to the committee members she can not find out how $200,000 was spent can not account for it. ( maybe it was $500,000 I can not remember since it was in the late 80's) I am not suggesting someone stolen it - they probably never knew -
I do not recall anyone from the press at the meeting this was before the internet.

I can not write books here - on things - there is a long story about district 65 life safety - and its issue - I was even told by a source years ago there may have been theft. too long ago and too many screw ups - since to worry.

You are always welcome to come talk to me - at a council meeting or if you see me in public -

I do not have time to look into everything here - are bids and other thing not in the publid interest ? - I would say - there is a chance we have paid more for somethings here due to council manipulation and staff manipulation - who profited I could not say or will not say - but not every thing here is quite as open as some might think. ( they do not always take the low bidder -sometimes for good reasons ) politics too plays a part - they screwed up the elm tree injextion program by certain council members playing politics - thus increasing costs quite a bit - not really discussed or understood in the press - the city staff involved when I filed a FOIR were not that helpful -

Here again you need to be there any involved in issues there is alot of complexity to the issues here - sometimes one issues can take alot of time to understand.

Ann can you provide the public more information

Ann - I would like to know who on staff was responsible to collect the rent?
I would like to know why it took them so long to inform the council? Finally why were they going to give them a new lease? I am not interest in who these people are, I want to understand why staff does not seem to care about collecting funds the tax payers are owned?

some idle speculation

"I would like to know who on staff was responsible to collect the rent?
I would like to know why it took them so long to inform the council?"

I wonder whether the issue with the City and apartment rental is one of those things that fell through the cracks as a result of all of the people leaving City Hall. And positions being reoranized. And departments being reorganized. And City administration being reorganized.

Without trying to defend anyone, or justifying anything, this would seem to be one of those smaller items that may have been overlooked in passing on responsibilities. While it is not right, it may be more understandable than there having been conspiracy or sweetheart deals afoot.

Just wondering

on speculation - too many things fall thru the cracks!

Aon - too many things here are always falling thru the cracks - there are just far too many examples of our lost tax dollars - there are two parties responsible council members and staff -

In the future they will start to use the excuse all the staff left for every screw up - that is not acceptable considering they approved the program.

Al the council members direction to staff is more questionable

AL - I agree with all your points - but it the people in charge who set the tone of the organization - over the years here I have seen city staff members create their own direction and council members who do nothing.

The city screwed up the maple ave garage - and left a commerical space it owns there unrented now for years I would guess we have lost $500,000 in taxpayer money.

One council member wants to sell off the building the city owns next to the north branch library - I have my doubts it will generate revenue we need at the same time it really is need to expand the branch properly. I do not trust them to do this in the interest of the taxpayers.

The city rents out the art center next to light house for $1 a year. There is a apartment attached to the lighthouse - i am not certain if the city owns the building or not - but it is unclear to me about the rent situation there?

Al - what it continues to amount to the council members do not care about tax dollars - and will do anything to protect a special interest ( Mr. Who you can keep on asking who are the special interests )

Sweetheart deal for someone's sweetheart

I agree with Anonymous Al. What is up with this mess?

Those tenants who are paying far below market rate. So it's another city subsidy. Why? Whose family member or friend on the City payroll got this sweetheart deal for the tenants? Yes, there needs to be an investigation.

Then they wind up $4,000 behind on the market -- three months ago! And they are still in the property today.

Please, City Council, investigate which City employee pulled out all the stops for his or her "sweetheart" and fire that City employee. Were the renters paying that city employee a little something for his or her "assistance" with this sweetheart deal?

What a scam at the taxpayers' expense. Please, City Council, start protecting our hard earned tax dollars that are in the City's pocket and find out who sold out the City and its taxpayers for that person's own benefit.

I live in the 8th Ward. A very standard three-bedroom rental in this part of town goes for $1,300 and more. How could anyone, anywhere justify charging what sounds like $700 a month for an extensively renovated building in north Evanston?

I agree with Ann Rainey -- it's nuts to suggest that these people should stay. And it's nuts not to fire someone for creating yet-another-example of the sucking sound of money being sucked out of the Evanston taxpayers' pockets.

No Surprise Here

Why should we be surprised at this? If our City leaders are incompetent in running our City, why should we be surprised of the fact that they are incompetent in acting as landlords?

They have no financial acumen or financial propensity whatsoever.

Just the facts, Junad

Junad,
There are two things I only care about - facts and logic. Everything else you can throw out the window. So when you keep saying over and over that if we don't attend meetings then we don't get the whole picture, please provide FACTS. What is it that we are missing - again provide FACTS - recent FACTS. I'd love to know. You make it sound like you know something those of us who do not attend meetings don't know.

I will clue you in on something about myself - as a former journalist I have attended and written about numerous issues involving various city council meetings, plan commission meetings and the like - though not in Evanston. So I think I know the difference between what you get from attending meetings vs. not attending them in the age of the Internet. I watch many of the Evanston meetings on TV and I feel I can get the jist of the issues. Sure, you can get more info and FACTS by attending these meetings just by collaring someone and striking up a conversation. But for Pete's sake, what is it that we are missing, since you attend these meetings? What is it that's not being recorded? From reading your posts, it seems like people are profiting from poor leadership, mismanagement etc. Who? What? Details, FACTS. Where are they?

That's why I read these posts and offer my 2 cents worth. I want to glean more info from those with FACTS I might not have. For example, in this post we are criticizing the city staff for its poor decisions on this rental fiasco. Do you have an opinion on WHO might be responsible for this? Just the FACTS, that's all.
Anonymous Al

Al - re: facts - on City Rental

AL - as a journalist you know it takes time to research a story and get information - Bill is reporting what he is hearing at the meeting for example - as you know there is always more than is reported.

I do have one new fact - that both facility management and the Human Relation Department have been involved in this rental. ( from a source at the City ) Bill did not mention staff involved in his article. How they were involved I do not know.

I do not know much more - they did not know anymore.

Let me offer you some speculation at this point and why I may ask more questions.

There is a much bigger issue here than than screw up on the rent - that is did the City of Evanston break the law in regards to "Fair Housing" that is did they properly offer this property for rent or discriminate in placing the current renters in the property by excluding others?

The useless Human Relations department is suppose to enforce fair housing - the city actually gives our tax dollars to a fair housing group in another communmity - maybe we should ask this group to look into this issue?
They have fined landlords in Evanston for not following fair housing - I think it would be ironic if they did not follow the law.

( The city in its great wisdom - has no one realing running the remaining employees in the Human Relation department - the should probably get rid of the rest of the department but it is not likely)

Al - yes the above is speculation - but I know how these people operate and they have little regard to follow the law if it does not suit their personal agendas.

Ofcourse the above is only speculation on my part - as a journalist can you call the city and ask to see how they listed this property? File a FOIR to get the FACTS. Why didn't they hire a professional management firm to rent it out and manage the tenants and screen tenants?

At this point AL I suspect there are people in the city that may not want the FACTS to come out.