DeKALB - A Chicago-based real estate developer is seeking to invest $22.5 million in DeKalb and purchase Lincoln Tower, Hunter Tri-Frat and Hunter Ridgebrook, three apartment complexes owned by landlord Hunter Properties.
Chicago-based developer Clear Investment Group LLC is looking to buy three rental complexes owned by Evanston-based Hunter Properties, DeKalb’s largest landlord. As part of the deal, the city of DeKalb is offering $1 million to Clear Investment Group to go toward renovating one of the buildings.
“I think it’s just momentous for the city of DeKalb,” said Mayor Cohen Barnes on Tuesday.
Barnes, who ran his 2021 mayoral campaign in part on a promise to boost the city’s stock of safe, affordable housing, reiterated his pledge to improve conditions for Hunter tenants. He called living conditions for residents at Hunter properties “so so bad.”
“These are people in our community that are finally going to have the conditions they deserve in order to live here, go to school here and work here,” Barnes said. He called Clear Investment “a responsible landlord.”
According to city documents, Clear Investment Group is currently in negotiations with Hunter Properties to purchase all 184 units in Hunter Ridgebrook, all 40 units in Hunter Tri-Frat, 930 Greenbrier Road and all 66 units in Lincoln Tower, 1100 W. Lincoln Highway. The remaining 113 units would be purchased from various smaller Hunter-owned rental units throughout the city, City Manager Bill Nicklas said.
Representatives for Hunter Properties, including property manager Tiffany Meadows, did not respond to requests for comment.
According to Secretary of State company records, Amy Rubenstein is listed as a manager for Clear Investment Group. City documents state she would be involved in the DeKalb development.
The million would be given to the Chicago developer within 10 days of the purchase finalized. The City Council will vote on the incentive agreement during a special meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday at the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St. City officials said DeKalb does not have the means to purchase the remaining Hunter Properties-owned buildings, so a private investor is ideal, according to city documents.
Although the ownership transfer hasn’t yet been finalized between Clear Investment and Hunter, Nicklas said he feels pretty confident it will go through.
“That’s why we were inclined to provide an incentive,” Nicklas said.
The city’s $1 million would assist in the Chicago developer’s renovations of Hunter Ridgebrook, a three-building apartment complex at 808 Ridge Drive, 832 Ridge Drive and 835 Edgebrook Drive, documents show.
In turn, Clear Investment Group would take control of the properties within three months of the purchase, and complete renovations within a year from the date the first building permit is issued. The developer also would agree to own, maintain and operate the property for at least three years.
The Chicago developer’s total investment would be $22.5 million for all three complexes, including $13 million going toward Hunter Ridgebrook alone, and $3 million for renovations and upgrades to the buildings.
There are several safety measures the city will stipulate if Clear Investment Group proceeds with the purchase and accepts the city’s $1 million for renovations.
Security camera systems would be installed for the exterior and common areas of the building, documents show, and along entrances, exits, parking lots and hallways. DeKalb police would be granted 24/7 access to the live surveillance footage, which would be only accessible in a remote, secured location by the property manager or owner of the buildings.
Periodic walk-throughs of the buildings’ common areas by management would be required, and the ownership would be able to solicit private security personnel.
Special tools called Knox Boxes would be installed at various points throughout the properties, to allow for quick and efficient access to the buildings by emergency personnel.
The buildings under Clear Investment Group’s ownership would also be subject to annual inspections of the common areas by city emergency and code enforcement personnel.
Police would be allowed to issue verbal or written no trespass warnings to anyone unlawfully in the building’s common areas. In turn, the developer would need to provide identification information of those allowed to live in and visiting the space.
Plans for the future
The proposed purchase comes after a yearslong 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 that DeKalb fire officials said were attempted arsons in July 2019, displacing about 200 people.
Court records show the cited violations include electrical and mechanical issues, broken smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, bedbug infestations, security failures, lighting and plumbing problems and more.
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. Funds from that area would be able to go toward maintenance and exterior cameras, grounds and parking lot maintenance and other renovations to the area, according to city documents.
Hunter Properties began purchasing buildings in DeKalb in 2016, and its various subsidiaries controlled almost 1,000 units in DeKalb.
According to city documents filed with Tuesday’s incentive agreement request, Hunter Ridgebrook accounts for a “disproportionately high percentage of police and fire responses each month and over a thousand property maintenance code infractions in the past three years.”
Tenants rallied together to form the DeKalb Tenants Association in an attempt to advocate for change.
The apartment complexes, which offer affordable housing to DeKalb residents, would not be torn down as part of the plan.
“This is what they do, they renovate, remodel, upgrade and re-rent buildings,” Nicklas said. “They’re not into demolition, that’s not what they do.”
The proposed purchase between the two companies and the development agreement between the City of DeKalb and Clear Investments Group is separate from a settlement agreement approved by the city council in April. The agreement required Hunter Properties to sell Hunter Ridgebrook, Hunter Tri-Frat, Lincoln Tower and Hunter Hillcrest within two years. In August, Hunter Hillcrest, a commercial and residential complex was sold to the City of DeKalb for $1.18 million.
Barnes said the fact that a Chicago real estate firm is showing interest in DeKalb housing on its own means good things for local economic development.
“They approached us,” Nicklas said. “They’ve been doing their homework for a while. It’s been several months.”
It’s unclear how many of the 403 units up for sale are occupied.
“Not all are paying rent but we understand that there are a number of non-paying residents,” Nicklas said.
Barnes said the housing would remain available for current tenants if they can afford it.
“It’ll be affordable housing,” Barnes said. “When it comes down to life in DeKalb, these are large apartment complexes so rents will be equivalent to what apartments will be in [the city]. Ultimately if someone is living there and paying rent, they’re good to go.”
Nicklas said the renovations will take place while tenants still live inside.
“They’ll do it in a staged way,” Nicklas said. “So they won’t do the whole building all at once so they won’t put everybody out on the street. They’re very much aware that they’re going to have to do that for the comfort and convenience of people living in these buildings.”