Vacant-house plan garners more support

The Evanston Housing Commission will support a proposed ordinance to better regulate boarded-up and vacant buildings, members decided Thursday night.

According to the proposal, lawyers would be required to register home foreclosures with the city and inform officials of vacancies and sales of property. The city also would have the power to demolish a property within 30 days of posting an intent to condemn.

Although a quorum was not present at the meeting, committee member Judith Hurwich said she would attend Monday’s Planning and Development Committee meeting to encourage the city’s aldermen to vote in favor of the issue.

“Anything that would further the (foreclosure) process and get it moving would be a big plus,” Hurwich said.

Stan Janusz, assistant director of Property Standards and Housing Rehabilitation, said the city needs to do a better job of keeping track of “board-ups” and vacant buildings, which are often the result of foreclosures.

“Trying to track the process of foreclosure is a rather difficult one,” Janusz said. “It can drag on for a very, very long time.”

There are about 15 “board-ups” in the city, some of which have been foreclosed for years, Janusz said. But taking action can be hard because some owners leave a house and contacting attorneys can be difficult.

Board-ups and vacant buildings first were raised as an issue in Evanston in 1995. Some aldermen and local residents began to readdress the problem about a month ago.

The proposed ordinance would require both attorneys and owners to be more proactive and take responsibility for ensuring that buildings do not foster problems. In the past the city often would learn of foreclosure sales by reading the newspaper.

Both city officials and residents have expressed concern that boarded-up buildings are a public nuisance and can foster criminal activity and other problems in the neighborhood.

The city is trying to make board-ups less obvious both for security purposes and aesthetic purposes, Janusz said. He has begun to advise investigators to board on the inside of a house and eliminate bold words and letters.

“Boarding is a blight,” Janusz said. “But sometimes it’s necessary and we do it.”

Janusz said the city wants to ensure buildings purchased at foreclosure auctions are properly fixed and brought up to current codes and standards.

Residents cannot occupy board-ups until they receive proper permits and city investigators have sufficiently inspected the building.

Some foreclosed buildings are properly rehabbed and others simply have a fresh coat of paint and wallpaper, Janusz said.

Dorothy Frazier, of 2001 Foster St., said a friend’s home was recently foreclosed and the friend’s son is living in the vacant building. The city has not boarded up the house. Both she and her friend are concerned the son and his friends are selling drugs from the home, she said.

“How long is it going to take before something is done about the house?” she said.

The Planning and Development meeting will be held 7 p.m. Monday at Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., and is open to the public.