DeKALB – An apartment building left condemned in July following a fire that displaced about 200 residents could be reopened, city staff say, though tenants will have to reapply for leases with the building's owner, Hunter Properties.
During Mayor Jerry Smith's State of the City address Monday night, Smith said he was "heartened" by renewed efforts between Hunter, who is the city's largest landlord, and the city's new Chief Building Official, Dawn Harper, to address housing issues.
Harper said since she's come on board in October 2019, she's been working with Hunter Properties to develop a working solution.
"We're working with then, and they've been compliant in coming together," Harper said. "In the next week or two, they will have some apartments open up [in 808 Ridge Drive].
For months the city has been embroiled in legal disputes with Evanston-based Hunter Properties LLC. Through subsidiaries, it owns about 1,000 rental units in DeKalb, city officials have said, which is more than any other company. Those include two buildings where tenants were forced from their homes after July fires that displaced about 200 people at the Ridgebrook Apartment complex at 808 Ridge Drive.
Police believe the fires were intentionally set.
The city has for years been involved in legal disputes regarding over 500 code enforcement violations involving properties owned by Hunter, according to DeKalb County court records. In December, Hunter dropped a $10 million lawsuit it brought against the city after the fires alleging targeted discrimination.
DeKalb Fire Chief Jeff McMaster served as an interim building official in 2019 for code compliance issues until the city could fill the vacant position. Following the fires, he provided Hunter Properties staff with a list of code issues they would need to address prior to reopening.
"Dawn had to get caught up on it all," McMaster said. "And she did additional inspections herself to be familiar with the building. She was able to come up with a plan for reopening the building. Compliance was strict because of the poor history the building has had."
Harper said 808 Ridge Drive will be reopened in sections, as she's been working with property manager Tiffany Meadows to ensure public spaces like hallways are up to code. Wings beginning on the second floor will be available for rent first, though no old tenants are ensured a spot.
"According to Tiffany, they are redoing the whole process," Harper said, regarding leases.