DeKALB – The DeKalb City Council officially approved buying one of local landlord Hunter Properties’ buildings for $1.18 million after years of tense back and forth between the two entities.
The council voted, 7-0, on Monday to approve the city buying the Hunter Hillcrest property mixed-use building in the city’s Annie Glidden North neighborhood. Sixth Ward Alderman Mike Verbic was absent. City officials plan to demolish the structure after the purchase, which will be paid for using federal funds received through the American Recovery Act, according to city documents, and include provisions to relocate any existing tenants.
Just before the Monday City Council vote, Fifth Ward Alderman Scott McAdams said he wanted to “urge my colleagues to vote ‘yes’ on this matter.”
”Progress takes a long time,” McAdams said. “At long last, we’re going to take a first and definitive step towards fixing the biggest problem in the city.”
DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes, who campaigned on Hunter Properties-related tenant and landlord issues during the 2020 mayoral race, said Monday he was he was happy to see the City Council approve the purchase.
“I’m excited about the impact that it will have in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood,” Barnes said.
Officials from Hunter Properties did not speak publicly during the Monday meeting.
Barnes said city officials have been drawing ideas from area residents about what to do with the site and he’s “looking forward to working with the community” to consider those options.
“But nothing is solidified,” Barnes said.
DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas said there are 14 residential units in the upstairs part of the building, though the upstairs isn’t fully occupied, while each of the nine commercial spaces on the main level are occupied by businesses.
Nicklas said the city recently pocketed $1.5 million in federal American Recovery Act funds to use for residents “who have been underserved for a period of time.” He said some of that money will go toward helping residents and businesses relocate, since that’s a demolition-related cost and falls within fund-use parameters.
On Friday, Nicklas said the city just received leases for the Hunter Hillcrest property and will as such be able to determine occupancy details. However, when asked about the leases Monday after the meeting, Nicklas said the city “didn’t have enough” of them.
Nicklas previously said the city is dealing with “an entity that hasn’t been the most cooperative” during the property purchase process and obtaining all of the related leases is a necessary step in closing on the property. He said that means the city’s timeline for closing dates and property development – along with meeting with residential tenants individually about negotiating relocation costs – is still uncertain.
According to state of Illinois law, landlords must give tenants at least 30 days notice of their intent to evict occupants.
Recent Hunter Properties-related City action
The update comes after the city of DeKalb declared its intent to buy Hunter Hillcrest apartments in May.
The mixed-use rental retail building at 1011 through 1027 Hillcrest Drive is one of four rental properties owned by Evanston-based Hunter Properties that the landlord must sell as part of a recently approved settlement agreement between the landlord and the city. Hunter Properties is required to sell the building by April 2023 after years of involving concerns expressed by city staff, officials and tenants over poor quality of living in the spaces.
Per the settlement agreement with local landlord Hunter Properties the DeKalb City Council approved in April, the buildings that Hunter Properties will be required to sell include Hunter Ridgebrook, Hunter Tri-Frat, Lincoln Tower and Hunter Hillcrest, according to the agreement.
The settlement came after a years-long effort by city officials to improve quality of living in several of the buildings owned by the Evanston-based Hunter Properties. The landlord owns the most units in the city, about 1,000 in total, and has over the years been the subject of nearly 500 unresolved code violations since 2019. Those include two buildings where tenants were forced from their homes after several fires, which DeKalb fire officials said were attempted arsons in July 2019, displacing almost 200 people.
In December 2020, the City Council approved a Special Service Area to collect more taxes from the properties to put back into safety and housing measures for the areas.
Hunter Properties began buying buildings in DeKalb in 2016, and its various subsidiaries control almost 1,000 units in DeKalb.
DeKalb County court records show 10 Hunter Properties buildings in DeKalb have been cited 483 times for code violations sine 2017. Court records show cited building violations against Hunter Properties include electrical and mechanical issues, broken smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, bedbug infestations, security failures, lighting and plumbing problems and more.
Tenants who were victims of several 2019 arsons have voiced their frustrations with their landlord. Tenants rallied together shortly after to form the DeKalb Tenants Association in an attempt to advocate for change.
• In a previous web version of the story that has since been corrected, the wrong ward was used to identify Fifth Ward Alderman Scott McAdams. The Daily Chronicle regrets the error.