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DeKalb housing meeting heated at times

Published: Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Landlords came out in force Wednesday to urge the DeKalb City Council to not license them in an attempt to clean up the city’s rental housing stock.

They were the majority of the participants who spoke at the council’s public hearing on a number of housing ordinances. They criticized the aldermen for, in the words of one landlord, trying to place the “steel hammer” of licensing over their collective heads as a means of enforcement.

At times, the rhetoric got heated. Jim Morel, a landlord and president of the DeKalb Area Rental Association, called licensing a “false prophet,” while landlord Brian Morsch accused Mayor Kris Povlsen of trying to take advantage of the city’s crime problem.

“Mayor, I also resent the fact that you would use a crisis like this to influence the council to promote a policy such as licensing of landlords,” Morsch said.

But other homeowners such as Amanda Durik were more likely to favor licensing. She said there needs to be regulation “that goes beyond self-regulation.”

“That there’s some kind of consequences, some kind of enforcement of those because without it, speaking as a psychologist who studies motivation, it is unlikely that people will do what they do not want to do,” Durik said.

DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell urged unity during the meeting, stating that the debate should not devolve into a government against business debate. While Campbell did not come out in support for any particular recommendation, he said “the status quo is not working.”

“I’ve got a jail full of people. I’ve got buses going to prison every week. I’ve heroin trafficking coming into the city of DeKalb,” said Campbell, who described the city as being the destination point for gun and heroin trafficking on its way to and from Chicago.

Campbell said the City Council needs the support of the landlords for any ordinance to be successfully implemented, but the state’s attorney also pointed to the complicity of landlords in the problem.

“I am astonished to look at the background of some of the people I send to prison, and I find that they were renting over here and running their operations out of some of these buildings,” Campbell said.

Failing to stop the crime problems will cause property values to decline far more than any licensing program, Campbell added.

Some common ground was struck during the meeting. The vast majority of speakers acknowledged there are problems in DeKalb, and DeKalb police were doing everything they could. But unity might be hard when it comes to the city and Northern Illinois University.

No one representing the university came out to speak at the public hearing. One student was present, but he did not speak in the room. He made it clear that he was not representing NIU in any official capacity.

David Jacobson, who represents a lot of student housing in his capacity as First Ward alderman, took NIU initially to task for not showing up to the meeting.

“They affect everything we do here, and yet again, they have not found the time to get someone out here to comment on this,” Jacobson said. “And that’s a problem.”

Povlsen said he and City Manager Mark Biernacki and Police Chief Gene Lowery met with NIU President John Peters on Monday. Povlsen said he asked for Peters’ cooperation and to have a university official address the council and the assembled public.

“He did not choose to send anyone,” Povlsen said. “In fact, he chose not to call me personally, but chose to have someone from the university call and say that he did not want to get involved with this community. And I want that to be on the record.”

At the end of the meeting, Povlsen directed Biernacki and the rest of the city staff to begin drafting ordinances for the council to consider.

Another special meeting about housing will take place Oct. 10.

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