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Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 09:04 am

Progress slow on MacArthur apartments

Four units repaired, 42 still “unfit for human habitation”

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PHOTO BY STEIN DESIGN

A milestone was quietly reached Dec. 5 with a certificate of occupancy granted by the city of Springfield for one of seven four-plexes placarded last August in a  housing inspection blitz at the MacArthur Park apartment complex.

It was the first instance of the city allowing tenants to live inside apartments shut down four months ago at the complex that sits between MacArthur Boulevard and the village of Jerome, not far from Wabash Avenue.

“They are making some progress,” says John Sadowski, Springfield building department manager.

But dozens of apartments remain placarded, and progress isn’t fast enough for Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin, who has asked the Springfield Housing Authority to stop issuing Section 8 housing vouchers for MacArthur Park. The housing authority is considering the idea, but hasn’t given a firm answer.

“We are reviewing it,” says Jackie Newman, housing authority executive director. “Our goal is, certainly, to provide quality, affordable housing.”

Newman says that she has a relative living at MacArthur Park and that her staff is studying federal regulations to determine whether a moratorium on Section 8 vouchers for the complex would be legal. McMenamin, however, sounded optimistic after a Dec. 8 meeting with Newman and other housing authority officials.

“They have this authority and leverage, and they intend to use it,” McMenamin said. “It’s, potentially, a massive hammer.”

About 60 apartments in the 188-unit complex are occupied by tenants who have Section 8 vouchers, Newman said. Clients with Section 8 vouchers can use them anywhere, but Section 8 housing must pass muster with housing authority inspectors who have approved units in MacArthur Park.

The city can foreclose on buildings and demolish them if code violations persist for three years, but that won’t happen at MacArthur Park, according to Don Craven, attorney for Granite Investment Company, the company that owns the complex. But fixing things can’t happen overnight.

“There’s only so much work that so many people can do at one time,” Craven said.

Forty-two apartments in the complex remain placarded after being declared unfit for human habitation during city inspections in August, September and October. Problems range from electrical hazards to holes in walls to roach infestations to no plumbing or utilities, according to inspection reports.

More than half of the complex, which includes nearly four dozen four-unit townhouses, has not been inspected by the city since Mayor Mike Houston last summer launched a get-tough program to deal with problem properties.  The city has been inspecting four-plexes in batches every four to six weeks, and inspectors keep finding problems.

An entire four-plex was placarded in September, along with six apartments in other four-plexes. Eight more apartments were placarded in October. And there are plenty of problems that aren’t serious enough to force closure – McMenamin counts 1,400 violations found at the complex. There could be additional violations in four-plexes where inspectors skipped some apartments. In some cases, inspectors didn’t visit apartments because no one was home, according to inspection records. In other cases, Sadowski said, tenants refused to allow inspectors inside.

Sadowski said the city would need search warrants to inspect apartments where tenants have refused entry.

“That’s something we need to think about, whether we need to do that,” Sadowski said.

Cliff Buscher, deputy chief of the Springfield Police Department, says that officers have been called to MacArthur Park 160 times, mostly for “disburbances,” since Aug. 5, when the city launched its inspection program at the complex.

Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe said that MacArthur Park is a hurdle to redevelopment of the business district along nearby MacArthur Boulevard, where the city plans to create a tax increment finance district.

“When someone talks about the area, they talk about MacArthur Park apartments,” Jobe said. “It does affect the overall perception.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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