‘Clamor’ from the neighborhood

Wayne Horne | 3/5/2014, 4:50 p.m. | Updated on 3/11/2014, 2:38 p.m.
Just how awful is the Evergreen Terrace housing complex that’s located in Joliet on the near west side of town? ...
Wayne Horne

Just how awful is the Evergreen Terrace housing complex that’s located in Joliet on the near west side of town? Last Thursday a group of residents from several neighborhood community groups and others, including myself and four Joliet City Council members, took a two-hour tour of the entire complex.

Over the years, Evergreen Terrace has been described by many, including public officials and area homeowner groups, as a deteriorating, crime-ridden place with graffiti in the hallways and on exterior walls. Some city officials have described it as a place with horrible living conditions. Families are crowded into small, one-room apartments, according to Mayor Tom Giarrante. Visitors to the complex sell drugs in the parking lot and it is unsafe to walk past the place without being hassled, according to some. These and other less than favorable comments have been used to describe Evergreen Terrace for many years.

With all of that in mind, I came to the Evergreen Terrace complex with just 2 days notice to the complex on last Thursday in search of evidence that might verify any of the aforementioned remarks or allegations. I found none and our group had full access to all of Evergreen Terrace’s buildings and also inspected two vacant apartments.

Jake Paschen, president of Burnham (the management company for Evergreen Terrace) said the two unoccupied apartments were the only ones available at the complex. The other 354 were occupied and the complex has a waiting list with 600 names on it. The interior of the buildings were clean. City Councilman Larry Hug inspected stairwells and garbage facilities in each of the buildings. There was no graffiti on any interior or exterior walls.

Evergreen Terrace includes a mix of studios, one, two- and three-bedroom apartments. How many people can be accommodated in each apartment is mandated by both HUD and city ordinances. A studio has one occupant and those with bedrooms can accommodate two people per bedroom. Apartments are inspected periodically for both cleanliness and maintenance, according to Paschen. The complex has a zero tolerance for any tenant offenses and if a tenant breaks the rules they can be evicted. Paschen said past problems at Evergreen Terrace have been resolved and during our tour there was no evidence to the contrary.

Security at the complex is provided around the clock and access to all buildings is only available with resident key cards, Paschen said. Guests are prohibited from having key cards. Some of the security at the complex is provided by off-duty Joliet police officers through an agreement with the city. The parking lots are only available to residents and security personnel. Off street parking is available for guests.

The tour group – led by Paschen, the day to day manager of the property, Andrea Green and maintenance Manager Jim Kuican – answered every question asked by the group and cooperated in all phases of the tour. City Councilmen on the tour included Bob O’Dekirk, Larry Hug, Jim McFarland and Terry Morris.

I asked Paschen if another tour could be arranged for the mayor and any other interested council member. He said he was open to the idea. I asked Giarrante after Tuesday’s City Council meeting if he wanted to tour Evergreen he said it was unnecessary. He is convinced the complex is overcrowded and living conditions unacceptable.

Cathedral Area Preservation Association (CAPA) board President John Kella read a letter addressed to the City Council at the close of Monday night’s Pre-Council meeting, urging the council to continue pursuing the condemnation lawsuit. The letter was written on behalf of CAPA board members and may or may not express the majority view of Cathedral area residents. Many of the same remarks previously expressed about Evergreen were repeated in the letter. One important point rarely heard publically was that there have been a “drastic reduction in property values” in the Cathedral area. Is that to imply that Evergreen Terrace caused those property value reductions? Have not home values plummeted across the country and in Joliet as a result of the bottom dropping out of the housing market in 2007?

It’s interesting to note that the only people who haven’t weighed in on the future of the complex are those who live there. The residents are low income, mostly African-Americans. There is no clamor from Evergreen residents regarding horrible living conditions. That clamor is only coming from the surrounding neighborhoods. Stay tuned.