March 28, 2014
Nonprofit Taking Matters into Own Hands — Razing 10 Vacant Westside Homes
By Kevin Haas, Rockford Register Star
ROCKFORD — No one is supposed to live inside the yellow two-story home at the corner of Miriam Avenue and Andrews Street.
But that doesn’t mean no one does.
Empty liquor bottles are discarded on the front lawn. The front door of the condemned home is busted wide open, giving view of empty bottles, a broken porcelain commode and other trash scattered across a beaten hardwood floor.
People who live in the west-side neighborhood say squatters often occupy the home until police kick them out.
“Last year, there were 350 tires in that garage and the door was not suitable. It could have fallen on anybody,” said James DeVoe, president of the West Gateway Coalition.
The big yellow house is one of 10 to be torn down this spring by a newly formed nonprofit organization that collaborated with the city to raze the condemned homes at no charge. The homes will be razed by Rockford Corridor Improvement Inc., which incorporated as a nonprofit on Jan. 31, according to Illinois Secretary of State records.
The registered agent is John Holmstrom of William Charles.
“It will help keep some of the neighborhood problems down,” said Lerashio Green, who lives near the home.
Green suspects a squatter was responsible for break-ins in the neighborhood. He keeps a watch for problems through security cameras installed on his property.
Each of the soon-to-be razed homes are in the neighborhood around Ellis and Lewis Lemon elementary schools.
“When these students are walking to and from school, it’s hard to be inspired that you can be something great when you’re walking through neighborhoods that have been just decimated by the housing crisis,” said Ald. Tom McNamara, D-3.
City Council members on Monday approved the development agreement that allows for demolition. It’s expected that many structures will require asbestos abatement before demolition can begin.
The agreement calls for the homes to be razed no later than May 23.
The nonprofit group’s demolition work will be in addition to the 80 to 100 homes the city plans to tear down this year.
“I applaud (the group) for being so proactive and so willing to do this,” McNamara said. “Their investment into this will really make a tremendous impact on those neighborhoods.”
DeVoe and his organization, a collaboration of neighborhoods working to improve the city’s west side, hope to take advantage of the momentum from the demolitions. He hopes to see the empty lots left behind used in a positive way, be that as community gardens, parks or a plot for Habitat for Humanity to build a new home.
Groups of volunteers, including DeVoe, have dedicated many hours to do everything from cleaning up backyards and alleys to making minor repairs to homes and other beautification in the area, particularly along Blaisdell Street. Project 10:13, also known as Saving Blaisdell Street, is in its fourth year of all-volunteer work to improve the area.
DeVoe said residents also must continue to report problem properties to police and code enforcement officials.
“We are cleaning up our neighborhoods,” DeVoe said. “We, the residents, are changing our neighborhood. We’re getting rid of these old homes. We’re making our landlords accountable. We’re making homeowners that vacate their homes accountable, and we’re holding the city accountable for getting them down.”
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