DeKALB – City officials are holding a public hearing next week for a proposal that could mean the city’s largest landlord Hunter Properties pays additional property taxes that would go toward city public safety costs near the Annie Glidden North neighborhood.
The public hearing during the City Council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in the Yusunas Meeting Room at the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St., and participants may attend in person following public health guidelines, or watch live via Channel 14 or zoom.
DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas said enforcement officers, fire prevention officers and other city officials have been paying visits to properties owned by the landlord in response to over 500 unresolved code violations involving Evanston-based Hunter Properties LLC and its subsidiaries, some dating back to 2017.
Nicklas said fines issued to the landlord totaled at almost $500,000 in 2018 alone.
Nicklas said several of those citations and fines were soon due to come up again for review by a city hearing officer or through the civil court system to either get the landlord to pay the fines or comply with city orders stemming from tenant complaints about living conditions. He said the city and landlord eventually negotiated a settlement that involves the creation of a special service area, or SSA, and for the landlord to agree to not contest the city’s SSA, which is essentially a localized property tax levy.
“So that’s an improvement in chasing fines week in and week out,” Nicklas said.
City officials have been trying to get the management of Evanston-based Hunter Properties LLC – which, along with its subsidiaries, own about 1,000 rental units in DeKalb, more than any other landlord – to do better by their tenants for the better part of the year.
The continued push for enforcement was spurred, in part, by a series of suspected arsons in the summers of 2018 and 2019 at Hunter Ridgebrook Apartment complex, 808 Ridge Drive. On July 9, 2019, a fire was ruled intentional after city crews discovered several mattresses in a third-floor common area had been lit on fire, and the subsequent incident resulted in 140 residents displaced and the building condemned. Cooperative community calls – by city officials and the newly-formed DeKalb Area Tenant Association – demanded change for the living conditions at one point called “a disgrace before God.”
Nicklas said the SSA would only apply to Hunter Properties only – specifically properties near Edgebrook Drive – and the now city-owned and vacant Edgebrook Manor Apartment Complex, 912 Edgebrook Drive, which is expected to be demolished this year. He said the proposed SSA’s purpose is meant to remedy a problem unique to Hunter that doesn’t financially impact other property owners within the city.
He said the additional tax revenue could go toward security cameras and other public safety measures for the area.
“With all of the police calls coming from out there, there isn’t enough photographic evidence, with how many shots are fired in the area and how many people are pushed down,” Nicklas said.
Nicklas said the settlement, including the proposed SSA, would only apply to old fees charged to Hunter Properties. He said the city could still issue new ones to the landlord, if applicable.
If approved, the proposed SSA would be the eighth in the city, Nicklas said. However, he said, it would also be one of the city’s largest ones in terms of property tax revenue.
“If this goes through and after [Hunter Properties pays] taxes next year in June and September, the city will get $100,000 out of that [annually] to offset costs in ensuring the safety of the residents,” Nicklas said.
Nicklas said the city would set up a fund for property tax revenue collected through the SSA for the former Edgebrook Manor Apartment Complex. He said he doesn’t expect that revenue to exceed a few thousand dollars.
“There will be some mowing of grass and that type of thing, but that’s it,” Nicklas said.
Nicklas said the city is sensitive to any possible consequences from the SSA, including tenant rent increases. He said he hasn’t heard of that being threatened due to increased property taxes from the landlord from the proposed SSA, nor has anyone approached the city about that specific concern.
Hunter Properties manager Tiffany Meadows was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
According to city documents, the proposed SSA may not be created and no tax levied or imposed if at least 51% of residents within the proposed boundaries sign a petition against the proposal and submit it to the city clerk within 60 days of the ordinance’s approval.