Evanston officials Monday pledged to crack down on housing code violations in the 1900 block of Jackson Avenue, a block plagued with drug dealing.
The promise came as aldermen reluctantly voted to double-down their investment of public funds in a property at 1930 Jackson that tenants fled after a shooting next door early this year.
The non-profit Housing Opportunity Development Corporation acquired the two-flat building and coach house in 2004 and spent $44,000 the city receives from the federal government to rehab it.
HODC’s executive director, Mary Ellen Tamasy, says it’s been difficult to keep the two-flat rented.
“It’s a tough neighborhood, a very tough neighborhood,” she told aldermen, “We’ve had families move in and then decide they don’t want to raise kids there.”
“Drug dealers in the neighborhood have hidden their drugs under the siding of the building,” she added, which has damaged it.
Previous tenants, she said, also “did a great deal of damage” to the units before they were evicted.
When the latest tenants fled after the shooting, she said they failed to tell HODC they were leaving. With the heat turned off, pipes froze, which forced the group to knock holes in several walls to make emergency plumbing repairs.
Monday the aldermen approved giving the group $84,760 to repair the damage, replace the roof and make security improvements.
Community Development Director James Wolinski said, “We plan to devote two inspectors and hit the whole block within the next four weeks. The rental buildings we’ll go inside and the owner-occupied buildings we can write up for exterior violations.”
“We hope to put the neighborhood on notice that some of the activities that have been happening there won’t be allowed any more,” Mr. Wolinski said.
Mr. Wolinski admitted that the city had last inspected all the buildings on the block four years ago, and that drew a rebuke from Alderman Anjana Hansen, who noted that because it’s a Community Development Block Grant area, rental buildings there are supposed to be inspected every two years.
But Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, who represents the block, voiced reservations about the inspection program.
“When we do these kinds of sweeps, which were going on back in the 1980s, the next thing you know, you don’t have people living in the neighborhood,” she said, and you have investors buying up the properties.
She noted with dismay that some single family homes that investors purchased years ago a block east on Wesley Avenue recently have sold for over $400,000 to new owner-occupants.
Mr. Wolinski said, “Wesley was at risk maybe 15 years ago, but Wesley is a much better street now and there aren’t the police issues that were on Wesley before.”
“I’m just talking code violations here. I’m not doing social engineering,” he added. “If there is illegal activity going on, the best we can do from property standards it to hit owners in the pocketbook and make them bring the buildings up to code.”
Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, criticized HODC’s management of the property.
“What’s flashing in my head is ‘free money’ here,” Ald. Jean-Baptiste said.
“You’ve let the property sit vacant for six months,” he said, suggesting that the availability of the city money encouraged the group hold off on making its own repairs. “People have a responsibility to take care of managing their properties,” he added
“I’m going to support the request, Ald. Jean-Baptiste said, “but I want to make sure that Community Development yells at people some times. If we want to make some lasting changes, we don’t want to keep throwing money at problems.”