For 11 years the city of Joliet—about 45 miles Southwest of Chicago—has been trying to condemn and seize control of a low income housing complex known as Evergreen Terrace.
City officials have said Evergreen Terrace is rundown and dangerous.
But a recent WBEZ report found that crime is down there, and the apartment buildings have seen significant improvements in the last decade.
The city’s efforts could eventually uproot the lives of 750 people without any clear reason. Larry Hug is a member of the Joliet City Council — he’s the only council member who voted against the city’s decision to buy Evergreen Terrace last summer. We spoke with him about the city’s motivations and the future of the site.
Why have Joliet officials fought for over a decade to take over the site?
What I’ve heard a lot from people is [it’s about] the effect on our property values, crime in and around [the area]. A couple of council members claim that their motivation is for quality of life and that the city would run it better than the private management company that runs it for the current owner.
WBEZ has done some reporting that there is actually no clear plan about what to do with the land. Is that right?
There really isn’t. No one had a plan. I actually had to do the best I could to go ahead and do my own analysis on what it would cost to do some semblance of purchase and relocation and redevelopment. It was $67 million. That was my estimate. We don’t have a plan that’s going to A) make it affordable for the city or, B) be respectful for the residents. We don’t have a plan.
Almost all of Evergreen’s 750 residents are African-American. Kate Walz, a lawyer who represents the tenants, cited court documents that indicate race may have been a factor in the city’s decision to claim and condemn the building. What are your thoughts on that?
I can honestly say that when I’ve talked to folks no one brought race up as an issue. I’ve had some people say they want to turn the river into a green space. Well, green spaces are nice, but you’re going to develop a green space in an area that is housing families.
So when taxpayers in Joliet say to you, ‘You’ve already spent millions on this. You might spend another $70 million once you take ownership.’ Will you be able to look at them and say this is going to be worth it?
No. I made a statement publicly when they said that we should have a judgment from the appellate court soon. And I said, “Well, I guess if we win we lose and if we lose we lose.” And I meant it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.