Annie Glidden North - A Changing Neighborhood
DeKalb's Annie Glidden North neighborhood has long been a hub for student social activities and is home to Northern Illinois University's Greek life community. Years ago, crowds of intermingling students were a common sight along Greek Row; today less so.
Streets that were populated by NIU students are now shared with families from low income neighborhoods. According to Mayor Jerry Smith, this development coincides with a lower student population in general.
"The drop in enrollment at Northern Illinois University has been one of the reasons why apartment buildings that were once filled with students are now in a position where the landlords are forced to rent to those who are non-students," said Smith.
This shift led to growing pains.
"If you bring an apartment complex together with 50 percent college students and 50 percent single mothers with kids, it's a recipe for some problems," he said.
Alderman David Jacobson represents the area and says more families are coming to DeKalb from larger cities.
"Whether it's Chicago or Aurora or Rockford, our school districts are generally perceived as better than theirs. Our neighborhoods are perceived as more safe than theirs," Jacobson said.
But he says the Annie Glidden North neighborhood wasn't built with families in mind.
"There aren't parks, there's not great parking at most of these properties," he said. "There's not a whole lot of services out here. Grocery stores and those things that would be in a typical residential neighborhood -- we don't have those here."
In recent years, a perception of danger has led members of the Greek community to move social gatherings behind closed doors.
Jacobson argues this perception is driven by reporting standards that prioritize coverage of high profile incidents -- most notably a string of shootings in the fall of 2017.
"To see a long-term trend of upward violence isn't the reality," he said." For those very high profile events, there's ups and downs."
But business owners say that negative perception is hurting their bottom line. Simo Spaijoski operates Fanatico restaurant.
"Business has been dropping significantly because of the crime in the area," Spaijoski said. "A lot of people don't want to come to this part of town because -- if you read the papers, or you get it through your Twitter feed, or through NIU, or other forms of media -- you hear there are shootings, stabbings, apartments setting on fire, and it lures people not to come to this part of town."
Some students say this isn't a matter of perception. Justin Whitcomb is a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon and is the former president of the university's interfraternity council.
"I literally have lived in this neighborhood the past four years and it's a very real reality," Whitcomb said. "There's been plenty of shootings on literally each side of my house. I saw a guy one time get curb stomped in the street walking back from the gas station and multiple people got robbed at gunpoint that I personally know."
Despite these experiences, Deputy Police Chief John Petragallo says the department saw a significant drop in calls last year.
He says officers are working around-the-clock to keep residents safe and are patrolling hotspots more intensively through problem-oriented policing (POP).
"We put our officers and resources where these offenses occurred so if we're having problems on Hillcrest -- the Hillcrest plaza is an example -- we're putting cops there," Petragallo told residents during a community meeting in February.
The city is also working to make the neighborhood less conducive to crime through the Annie Glidden North Revitalization Plan. It involves improving lighting and surveillance systems, and trimming hedges to eliminate potential hiding spots.
In addition, it seeks to foster economic growth and to further accommodate the needs of its residents, including many living in poverty.
Dan Kenney is the executive director of DeKalb County Community Gardens (DCCG) and a member of the newly formed Annie Glidden North Revitalization Action Group. He says the community food and education center is in development and DCCG is already distributing food on a regular basis. In addition, he mentioned efforts geared toward getting neighbors to know one another, such as community dinners occasionally held at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
"I think one of the most important things that can happen in the community, or for this neighborhood, is for there to be more assimilation into the whole community. So that people don't see this as this problem over here on the northwest side of town," Kenney said.
Carolyn Morris is a candidate to replace alderman Jacobson who is not seeking re-election. She is currently running unopposed and plans to work closely with the community-run action group.
"I don't want to live in a community that is not superior, and that's what I want to bring to this community," Morris said. "I want to try to improve it so that this is somewhere that I can stay with my children so they are afforded the best opportunities for their future. And I feel very much the same way about everyone's children. And it really infuriates me to see that any of our children have limited opportunities because of the community that they're coming from. And I want to change that."
Current and former tenants of Hunter Properties in DeKalb met last Wednesday at Fanatico to discuss their concerns.
Hunter Properties owns several apartment complexes in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood.
Tenants are forming an association which they say is intended to hold their landlords accountable.
Ashley Condon claims to have been a victim of a “bait and switch.” She says the apartment she was shown was much cleaner than what she moved into.
“There was blood in the carpet," Condon explained. "There was chewing gum. There, nothing had been cleaned. It looked like children wrote all over the wall. There was a horrendous amount of mold within the kitchen ventilation system. There were cockroaches. There were eaten chicken bones.”
Condon also claims to have lived without heat for three months last winter.
Hunter Properties representatives did not respond to comments at the recent meeting.
A tenants only meeting will be held next Wednesday.
In the meantime, updates will be posted on the Hunter Properties Tenant Association Facebook page.