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HAJ proposes managing Evergreen Terrace for city

Karen Sorensen | 8/5/2015, 10:52 a.m.
The Housing Authority of Joliet presented a detailed plan to the Joliet City Council Tuesday that calls for far less ...
The Evergreen Terrace apartment complex is located on Joliet's near West Side, along the banks of the Des Plaines River. Photo by Karen Sorensen

The Housing Authority of Joliet made a pitch to the Joliet City Council Tuesday to become the manager of Evergreen Terrace and to oversee the apartment complex’s future redevelopment.

Their presentation countered the proposal made last week by Holsten Properties of Chicago, with whom the city has been discussing management and redevelopment plans once the development is owned by Joliet.

The council is expected to authorize the purchase of Evergreen at its Aug. 18 meeting, borrowing $15 million from the city’s budget reserve fund to pay for it. That expenditure and the $6 million expended in legal fees will be repaid with money already in hand from federal CDBG funds and other sources and from the sale of bonds, which will be repaid with rent money generated by the complex’s 356 units.

Per a federal judge’s order – the end result of a 12-year legal case to acquire the near West Side development through condemnation -- Joliet must buy the apartments by Sept. 1 and have a team in place to oversee their management.

Although the council has been proceeding with the idea that Holsten would manage the site on the city’s behalf, no contract has been signed. The housing authority could be tapped for the job as long as a deal is struck before the sale and federal officials sign off on it.

Beyond that, the big question for the council is what to do with the complex in the long run. Holsten’s presentation outlined four options that ran the gamut from an extensive $70 million renovation to a more modest $24 million redevelopment to doing nothing other than changing management overview.

Housing authority Eric Hanson told the council that he saw Holsten’s proposals as “innovative, ambitious, but also unrealistic” given the amount the city would be expected to invest.

Focusing on the consent decree under which the city must proceed, there are only two things the council must do – provide 115 units of housing and establish a community center – and neither of those need cost the city very much, Hanson said. The rest of the residents would be given housing vouchers that they can use not only anywhere in Joliet or the state, but anywhere in the country.

The mandated 115 apartments need not be on the site of the existing Evergreen Terrace, but can be anywhere in the city, he said. The housing authority can help build new homes on lots the city already owns using money it secures from the federal government and private bank funding or it can strike deals with landlords in which apartments can be locked in for as long as 15 years, he said.

Neither would cost the city anything other than, perhaps, some of its annual CDBG funding, he said.

Beyond that, Hanson said he found some of the points made by Holsten last week – such as a $3 million price tag to build a community center -- “stunning.” Nor should it cost $300,000 a year to operate, he added.