This is the first in a series of stories looking at housing conditions in northern Illinois. We'll have the next installment Friday, July 19.
Halle Boddy and Jacob Maas are organizers who want to improve living conditions for all renters in the DeKalb County area. They knocked on apartment doors on June 19 to invite people to a tenant meeting of a group they created, the DeKalb Tenants Association.
Association organizers want to consolidate renter complaints, encourage tenants to advocate for themselves, and brainstorm unique ways to encourage landlords to hear more from their renters. Maas says he's a concerned DeKalb resident and is new to housing advocacy work.
"DeKalb has a landlords' association, so we probably need a tenants' association too," said Maas.
The Tenant Association started earlier this year out of a Northern Illinois University class Boddy took focused on working with nonprofits. The city was working with community partners on a plan to revitalize the Annie Glidden North neighborhood.
"This wasn't our original project. This wasn't what we were going to start off doing. And then everything changed," said Boddy.
The group that started at NIU turned from focusing broadly on Annie Glidden North revitalization to housing conditions of Hunter Property apartments, which owns many buildings in the area, according to Boddy. She said she spearheaded the project. With help from community members like Maas, the Hunter Properties tenants group expanded to welcome renters from all over the county.
Boddy said she doesn’t want people to live in conditions she used to as a college student. She said she had a gaping hole in her wall, a broken heating and cooling system, and said the upkeep of her apartment on Greenbrier was sub-par.
"I love this town. I love DeKalb County, I grew up in Sycamore," said Boddy. "I wish my friends didn't all want to move away from me. But they do, and it sucks."
She said it's a challenge to get the city, management, and tenants to care in the same way. The meeting they canvassed for took place at the end of June at a local church.
After canvassing and making announcements in a Facebook group of more than 90 people, Maas and Boddy were joined by a handful at their meeting on June 29. Only one was a renter. No one representing Hunter Properties attended. Maas said they're not discouraged about tenant participation.
"We have a lot of work to do where that's concerned. But you know, this is about building relationships with people in the community. This is about networking with people. And it's a long term project," said Maas.
Joanne Rouse of the Community Development Department attended. She's looking into securing federal money to make improvements in the community. And so did Larry Apperson, who sits on the city's Human Relations Commission.
"We've gotten word of so many unclean, unsafe hazardous situations in many of their rental units," said Apperson.
He said they're working on a declaration for tenants and housing management to do a better job of working together. It's still in the drafting stage, he said.
"As far as the management side goes," he said, "it's really time to get on board with the city."
A representative from Prairie State Legal also was there. Maas said he opened a bank account for the association with hopes of being able to eventually function as a resource with funds for legal services on retainer.
The tenant was Roxanne Jenkins. She said she's lived at a Hunter-affiliated apartment for three years.
"When you ask for something to get done, it doesn't get fixed," said Jenkins.
She said she's also concerned with tenants who leave trash around public spaces and cause public safety problems. Jenkins said the Association gives her hope that things can change.
"Before this association, I felt like why bother?" said Jenkins. "Because I feel alone. Like there's no legal or there's no one on our side. But now, I feel like there's going to be hope and we can get stuff done and the issues that need to be addressed, [will be] addressed."
Special attention has been given to Hunter-affiliated apartment tenants, both by the city and by the association.
So what is Hunter Properties? According to assistant city manager Raymond Munch, they're similar to an ownership company, broadly, with smaller management branches.
"I think it's been talked about pretty widely throughout the community that the city has been faced with some challenges when it comes to Hunter Properties and the conditions of the residential rental properties that they're operating in the city," said Munch.
There are numerous rental property names and buildings, operating under one ownership umbrella: Hunter Tri-Frat LLC, Hunter DeKalb Properties LLC, Hunter Campus Suites LLC, Hunter Greenbrier Properties LLC, Hunter Ridgebrook Properties LLC, Hunter Normal Properties LLC, Hunter Stadium View Properties LLC.
Their buildings house hundreds of low-income families and college students. Hunter-affiliated properties have had nearly 500 ordinance violations go through the court system in the last two years. They've accrued thousands in court fines and fees because properties aren't always up to code.
Hunter Property representatives have not responded to requests for comment at this time.
So who owns Hunter Properties, and how did Hunter Properties and the city of DeKalb get to this point?
- We'll have more as our series on housing continues next Friday.