Plans to upgrade area still pending

By Gg Levine

Means for upgrading the deteriorating DeKalb-Pond-Fisk area neighborhood still are under consideration by the DeKalb City Council and residents.

The city hired the Economic Research Association at $25,000 to arrive at an “analysis of existing housing conditions in the neighborhood as well as analyze the school administration center,” said Linda Boyer, city of DeKalb special projects.

The center, where the DeKalb school district has administrative offices is “big, old and in need of repair,” Boyer said, adding ERA will “see if there are other potential uses for the building.”

ERA “gave a couple of different examples of how the area could be redeveloped and housing brought up to standards,” she said. Total demolition of the area is only one of several options, others including partial demolition and partial rehabilitation or just renovation, she said.

Funds to pay ERA come from “recaptured housing rehabilitation loan payments,” Boyer said.

If the city council opts for a redevelopment project, the next step would be to ask private developers to propose ideas, and the council would choose which one it likes best, Boyer said.

If partial or total demolition does occur, the city will accommodate current residents with housing arrangements. “The council feels very strongly that we have an obligation to those people whose lives we disrupt,” Boyer said. “Our hope is that the city would pay for temporary relocation and for them (residents) to move back in (when new housing is built),” she said, adding, “No one will be left on the streets or have to pay much higher costs.”

The issue will be discussed again when ERA submits its final report at the July 10 council meeting and ultimately will be decided by the city council. However, Boyer said, “residents’ desires will be strongly considered and taken into account, so no one ends up completely dissatisfied or at a loss.”

Third Ward Alderman William Hanna, in whose ward the area lies, said the city is trying to work with the neighborhood group, which formed in response to the issue so that area residents could influence the fate of their neighborhood. Hanna said, “The input I’m getting right now is that some of the homeowners think their homes are capable of being saved.”

The area analysis by ERA is, in part, to “see which houses could be saved,” Hanna said. The city then would need to involve developers to invest in the redevelopment of the saveable houses, many of which “have potential,” Hanna said.

Another possible plan, Hanna said, is to completely close DeKalb Avenue. “I don’t think it would be the best. Some people do, some don’t,” he said.

The goal is to “get the area revitalized,” Hanna said. “We want to come up with a neighborhood that’s nice to live in.” “The location is perfect; it’s the conditions that need improvement,” he said. The neighbors (about 30 of them) got together to help clean up the site June 24, which Hanna said is “a step in the right direction.”

Problems residents have complained about include filth, disrepair of the houses, some of which are beyond repair, and unsafe conditions, Hanna said.

Some homes in the area, according to city of DeKalb codes, should be torn down, Hanna said. “People are living in condemned houses and should not be forced to live like that. We (the city) should be ashamed,” he said, adding, “children shouldn’t have to live like that.”

It is “up to the owners,” however, whether they want to make repairs or sell, he said. An “impass” arises if residents want to stay and owners want to sell, Hanna said. The city wants to “avoid a battle between owners and tenants, although we have kind of come to that in some instances,” he said.

“If the neighborhood is redeveloped, everyone will benefit—residents, owners and the city,” he said, adding, “to me, it’s a win-win situation whether we keep it (the neighborhood) and revitalize it or don’t.” However, he said he doubts total demolition will occur.

Fisk Street resident Mike Smith, member of the neighborhood block group, said, “as a group, we are against total demolition. I don’t think it would be practical for the city or the residents.”

Smith said the group plans to present a “mission statement” to the city at the July 10 council meeting. “As a group, we can offer the city valuable input as to what can be done,” he said.

Jim Merritt, president of the Gurler Heritage Association, who owns and rents out a house just outside the “threatened area” also is “interested in saving the area from the bulldozers.” GHA owns Gurler House which has provided space for neighborhood meetings.

Merritt believes some of the houses are historically valuable. “I don’t think any of them need to be demolished,” he said. Instead, the city should “try to make them look like they did when they were first built.”

Merritt views even partial demolition as a “severe, last, last resort,” saying the city’s first concern should be to “maintain the original character of the neighborhood,” as opposed to tearing it down and starting over with new developers.

Providing housing for low to middle-income people also is an important factor to consider, he said.

Helen Merritt said, “Residents’ participation and interest in doing something to improve the area has influenced the city,” making renovation a more realistic, attractive alternative to demolition.

However, DeKalb Avenue resident Eric Anderson feels the whole area should be demolished, as “the real owners are the cockroaches.”

Upgrade Page 4


Continued from Page 1