JOLIET – The city of Joliet is buying Evergreen Terrace.
The Joliet City Council voted Tuesday 7-1 to spend the $15 million needed to acquire the low-income, apartment complex at 350 N. Broadway St.
Councilman Larry Hug was the lone dissenting vote, with council members John Gerl, Bettye Gavin, Jim McFarland, Terry Morris, Pat Mudron, Mike Turk and Jan Quillman voting in favor.
The vote is the latest benchmark moment in a legal battle dating back to 2005, when Joliet first sued to gain eminent domain over the property that city officials contended had become blighted and crime-ridden because of years of bad management.
“Ten or 11 years ago the living conditions around Evergreen Terrace were deplorable,” Turk said. “The surrounding neighborhoods were suffering. The whole city was suffering. There was a public outcry to do something.”
Several council members voting for the acquisition said it gives the city a chance to improve conditions for Evergreen Terrace residents and people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods.
McFarland called the Evergreen Terrace situation an “ongoing debacle,” but said he believed there was public support for the acquisition and it was the best option for the city.
The vote by the council authorizes city officials to pay $15 million for Evergreen Terrace by the court-mandated deadline of Sept. 1. But ownership will not be resolved for at least a couple of months, and maybe longer.
The council met in closed sessions Monday and again at the start of the Tuesday meeting to discuss new developments with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes rents at Evergreen Terrace.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said the city has learned that HUD plans to try to block the city from taking possession of Evergreen Terrace.
“We have an issue that we’re going to hand over that $15 million and not get any income from that property,” O’Dekirk said.
However, the mayor’s version of what HUD officials informed him and City Manager Jim Hock differed from Hock’s version.
O’Dekirk said HUD gave the city a checklist of 64 conditions to meet before taking ownership. He said HUD will try to block the city from taking possession until the conclusion of an appeal by Evergreen Terrace owners, which could take up to two years.
Hock, however, said he expected the city will respond to the checklist in a matter of two to three months and take possession of Evergreen Terrace. At that point, Holsten Real Estate Development & Management Corp. would take over management of Evergreen Terrace, Hock said.
In another new development, city officials have learned they must stay with Holsten as the management company for Evergreen Terrace unless they are willing to go through a lengthy process of selecting an alternative company.
That means a recent proposal from the Housing Authority of Joliet to manage and redevelop the property will not be considered, Hock said. He noted that HAJ opted not to take part in a previous review when HUD approved Holsten as a management company for the property.
The city also has learned from HUD officials that it will not be able to use federal Community Development Block Grants to redevelop Evergreen Terrace unless it is willing to replace every housing unit on that site.
The city will have to dig deeper into its own pockets, rather than use federal housing funds as previously planned, to buy and eventually redevelop the site to lower the number of housing units.
Hug said the money spent on Evergreen Terrace would be better spent on more police officers and snowplows.
Burnham Management, the company that manages Evergreen Terrace now, released a statement saying it was “disappointed” with the vote, but added “we remain committed to the nearly 800 residents who call Evergreen Terrace home.”