City Council approves special service area for Hunter Ridgebrook Properties

A+boarded-up+window+stands+at+808+Ridge+Drive+apartments+in+2019.+

Northern Star File Photo

A boarded-up window stands at 808 Ridge Drive apartments in 2019.

Kierra Frazier, Managing Editor

DeKALB – Following opposition from DeKalb residents and an hour of back and forth discussion, City Council members approved a special service area for Hunter Ridgebrook Properties at Monday’s meeting. 

A special service area allows local governments to tax for and deliver services to a certain geographic area. In this case, the special service area would improve the public safety and security improvements for residents in the housing complex, according to the Oct. 12 city council agenda.

The discussion to make Hunter Ridgebrook Properties, 808 Ridge Drive, a special service area began in September due to an uptick in crime and a series of code violations for broken smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, bed bug infestations, security failures and more, according to an Oct. 9 Northern Star article

DeKalb residents voiced their concerns at Monday’s meeting in regards to the special service area because they don’t want to see their rent increase in the middle of a pandemic. 

Residents, such as Jacob Maas, an organizer for the DeKalb Tenants Association, are concerned that the new tax imposed on Hunter Properties will be passed down to residents who can’t afford it. 

“In the case that Hunter does pay this, they will be footing the bill to the tenants,” Mass said. “The tenants aren’t going to be paying more in rent so that their heat will work or that it’ll feel more secure.” 

A landlord can’t increase rent in the middle of a lease, said DeKalb City Attorney John Donahue. 

But residents of Hunter Properties have had problems with their leases in the past where tenants were never given a copy of their lease, so they didn’t know the conditions of their contract. 

First Ward Alderperson Carolyn Morris said tenants often have verbal agreements with the landlord rather than a rental contract. 

“We are trying to protect our tenants. We are trying to rid ourselves of irresponsible landlords,” Morris said. “We don’t want irresponsible landlords, but if the SSA [special service area] is just going to pass on the cost to the most vulnerable people, then it isn’t necessarily doing what we wanted to.” 

City Manager Bill Nicklas said management from Hunter Properties submitted a petition against the special service area last week but didn’t garner enough signatures from residents residing in that area. 

For the petition to be successful, 51% of those residing must sign it, and in this case, under 20% had legitimate signatures to be considered, Nicklas said. 

Graduate student Andrew Tillotson said the potential increase in rent is “a burden” for tenants and that it’s the last thing residents need. 

“The people that are in Hunter Properties are certainly people that are probably struggling to make a living right now during the pandemic quite frankly, and I am very, very much worried about adverse consequences,” Tillotson said. 

Residents and council members discussed the idea of imposing an eviction moratorium in the case that Governor J.B. Pritzker doesn’t extend the statewide executive order set to expire Jan. 9. 

But an eviction moratorium just for a certain portion of renters in DeKalb would be difficult to impose, Donahue said. 

City Manager Bill Nicklas called the issues that have been brought by Hunter Properties a “cancer on the community.” 

“Let’s go after it with a meat hook if we have to,” Nicklas said. “These people are not only destroying our community, but there are places in northwest Indiana and downstate Illinois. It is a cancer. That is not a slander, by the common definition that’s what it is. Let’s go get them.”

Fifth Ward Alderperson Scott McAdams said Hunter Properties is only interested in money and the ordinance is the only way to get their attention.

“They’re not interested in the growth of the city or the community,” McAdams said. “They just want to make money and so, hitting them in their pocketbook is probably the one way we can have an impact.”  

Hunter Properties could not immediately be reached for a comment.