SYCAMORE – Jessica Hernandez doesn’t want to leave Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park.
She and her family have lived in the mobile home park since 2007, and despite flooding that has led to numerous evacuations, they value the strong connections they have with their neighbors. Floodwaters reached her front stoop in the past, but she worries renting an apartment or house in DeKalb will be a financial burden.
“In my opinion, I feel bad for being here because I think you’re not [going] to be better in other places,” she said.
Hernandez, a recent Sycamore High School graduate, and her family of six may not have a choice when DeKalb County acquires the property and begins the long-awaited relocation process.
In May, the DeKalb County Board approved the $5.6 million project, which is funded by grants form the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency. The mobile home park became eligible for mitigation relief once the federal government declared DeKalb County along with five other Illinois counties disaster areas after repeated flooding in 2007.
DeKalb County Planning, Zoning and Building Director Paul Miller said the state has allocated the money from the federal government to fund the project. The county can be reimbursed with that money through invoices it sends to the state with actual costs associated with the project.
Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park is located next to the Kishwaukee River on East State Street in Sycamore in an area considered to be a floodplain.
County officials, along with consultants with Land Acquisition, Inc., are gathering information from the residents. Letters were sent to about 130 mobile homes in Evergreen Village. Six of the homes are known to be vacant.
The letters ask for basic background along with income, citizenship status and the type of home residents want when they are relocated.
Once the county purchases the property, the owner has an obligation to give the residents a year’s notice that the park will close and nobody may stay afterward, Miller said.
One of the goals of the project is to find the residents living in mobile homes “decent, safe, sanitary” housing, he said.
“We’re not looking to exclude anybody who is a resident out there,” Miller said. “We’re not looking to kick people out to the curb with nowhere to go. The goal is to find them comparable housing.”
However, residents who can not prove they are legally in the county may be ineligible for relocation assistance. Evergreen Village residents can qualify for assistance if their children are U.S. citizens; they can be compensated for their trailer if they own it, Miller said.
Nicasio Cambel, a 26-year-old certified nursing assistant with Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center, has been living in Evergreen Village since 2011. He pays $329 a month to rent the lot for his mobile home and said he is willing to work with the county on relocating him and his wife.
“I really don’t care where they put me, as long as it’s quiet and it’s a safe place,” he said.
Cambel said he wants to avoid DeKalb and the college students there. He said while moving somewhere else may not be bad for him, it could be expensive for some of the large families in the area who pay the same rent but might have to pay more to rent an apartment.
Before relocation plans can be drafted, Miller said the county needs to gather as much information about residents as possible. Miller said plans may be drafted by Aug. 30, and the county will hold public meetings, as well as private meetings with every Evergreen Village resident.
The residents are not obligated to take what the county is offering, however.
“Nobody is forced to move into a neighborhood they don’t want to move into or take a trailer they don’t want to take,” Miller said.
Even if the residents don’t accept the county’s offer, they can qualify for some financial assistance if they go somewhere else.
Charles Goodman, a 29-year-old Evergreen Village resident, said he’s not too concerned the relocation.
“My only concern is that if they know it floods every year, then why is it a concern now?” he said. “... If it’s a big concern, why is it taking so long?
Goodman, who lives with his roommate and her daughter, pays $329 to rent the lot. He said finding a house isn’t possible as he’s trying to gain custody of his daughter and is paying child support. He’s hoping the relocation process will happen quickly so he and his daughter can live in a better area.
County authorities expect the residents will move next year. By the end of 2014, Miller hopes the county will have acquired the property from the owner and perhaps keep them on as a park manager to assist with relocation.
After that the property’s infrastructure along with any unwanted trailers will be demolished. The property will return to open space and future development will be prohibited in the floodplain.
The process could be slow.
“Our hope is that by the end of the year, we’ll have successfully relocated everyone,” Miller said. “That’s the hope.”