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HAJ mulls redevelopment plans for Fairview, Des Plaines

JOLIET — The Housing Authority of Joliet is again starting to make long-range plans to demolish and replace two aging public housing projects.

HAJ is exploring opportunities to replace the Fairview and Des Plaines Garden Homes apartment complexes with newer developments. There is no timetable for the redevelopment, officials said this week.

But the agency is pursuing financing tools that could make redevelopment of Des Plaines Garden Homes possible. It’s also going through a review process that could lead to approval of Fairview’s demolition by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“It’s still preliminary,” said Michael Simelton, chief executive officer at the housing authority.

He noted that the authority board would have to give its OK for either redevelopment project and has not made a decision on the future of the two complexes. And HAJ would still have to line up financing for redevelopment.

In 2007, the authority tore down its Poole Gardens project and replaced it with the Liberty Meadow Estates mixed-income subdivision. At the time, HAJ was pursuing the demolition of Fairview and Des Plaines Garden Homes.

But HUD began raising questions about the demolition plans as it fought with Joliet over a condemnation case at the privately owned Evergreen Terrace apartments. HUD settled that legal dispute with Joliet last month.

Redeveloping Des Plaines Garden Homes and Fairview also would make HAJ less dependent on HUD for funding, Simelton this week told the city council’s liaison committee with the housing authority.

He said HAJ is applying for a Rental Assistance Demonstration program, in which HUD provides financial tools to make it possible to redevelop Des Plaines Garden Homes and create federally subsidized Section 8 apartments.

“It frees us up to be more like the private sector,” Simelton said.

The housing authority also is submitting cost estimates to HUD for rehabilitating Fairview. It appears, Simelton said, that those costs exceed the level at which HUD would approve demolition and replacement housing.

If Fairview is torn down, Simelton said, HAJ likely would look for a new location for replacement housing because Fairview, in the Forest Park neighborhood, is too far away from stores, services and public transportation that public housing residents need.

Tammy Carson, president of the Forest Park Neighborhood Council, was at the meeting and said she believed the neighborhood would welcome the relocation of Fairview because of problems related to the complex.

“They would love it,” Carson said. “There are so many problems and issues and violence that it disrupts the whole area.”

Outside his apartment at Des Plaines Garden Homes, Derrick Parker said Wednesday the complex has its problems, although not the kind of crime seen at Fairview. Parker said new housing would be an improvement.

“Everything is falling apart around here,” he said. “It’s a bad environment for kids here.”

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