DeKALB – A Chicago developer wants to buy and rehabilitate two privately owned rental complexes, about 530 units, in unincorporated DeKalb County, and city of DeKalb officials say the properties could be annexed into city limits to better maintain quality of life for tenants.
Clear Investment Group LLC — which in the past year bought three large rental complexes on DeKalb’s north side, formerly known as Hunter Ridgebrook, Lincoln Tower and Lincoln Tri-Frat now called The Terraces at DeKalb — has submitted a bid for Suburban Apartments on North Annie Glidden Road and Suburban Estates on Twombly Road. According to city of DeKalb documents released ahead of Monday’s DeKalb City Council meeting, the developer would buy, repair, rehabilitate and maintain tenants in both complexes as new owners for $30 million.
Amy Rubenstein with Clear Investment did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
City officials said Thursday that the hope is also to annex the 80-acre property — which also includes a solar garden — into the city of DeKalb. Although the properties fall along the northern border of the city limits, since the properties were built in 1967 and rented primarily by Northern Illinois University students and faculty, jurisdiction initially fell to the DeKalb County government. Now the rental facilities are home to mostly single-family tenants. According to the DeKalb County Housing Authority, Section 8 housing vouchers are also offered for units at Suburban Apartments.
Over the years, however, the property has fallen into disrepair, city and county officials said, citing crime and inadequate housing quality as reasons for wanting to change ownership. Better enforcement of existing city code meant to maintain a certain level of housing quality is another trigger for the potential city annexation, documents show.
“We are very excited to move forward with this potential developer who will purchase the property, update the properties and provide decent, affordable housing that is a place that people who live there could be proud of,” said DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes.
What lies ahead is a proposed intergovernmental agreement that would have the DeKalb city and DeKalb County governments work together, pending the ownership change, to annex the space and change police jurisdiction for the properties. Under the proposed agreement, Clear Investment would take ownership of the private properties as early as Oct. 2 or no later than March 1, 2023. The rehabilitation must be completed within 18 months of Clear Investment obtaining permits from the city, documents show.
“This is just another great example of units of government working together for the good of our county’s residents,” Barnes said.
The properties would also undergo water and sewer maintenance, rehabilitating it from a well water system and bringing it to city water lines. The sewers are already operated through the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District.
Like the change in ownership for The Terraces at DeKalb — spurred by what city officials said was consistent crime in the area, leading to regular police calls — a buyer of Suburban Apartments and Suburban Estates could bring needed security to area residents, city officials said.
City Manager Bill Nicklas said the city wants to better serve residents by incorporating the properties into the city’s jurisdiction.
“We also want to address crime, which is a problem,” Nicklas said Thursday. “The county sheriff’s department and city police make regular visits every week to the complexes there. And we will do the right thing in terms of the security of the people who come to the city to put down roots and start families. There are also some bad actors who are not there for the same purposes.”
Under the proposed agreement, the properties would be annexed into the city. However, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office will maintain primary police jurisdiction over the site at the county’s sole expense for two years from the date of annexation or three years from the date of the developer’s closing, whichever comes first. After that time, police jurisdiction would be transferred to DeKalb police.
DeKalb County Sheriff Andy Sullivan said countywide law enforcement agencies, including nearby NIU police, are working together anyway.
“We’re there every day,” Sullivan said Thursday when asked how often police are called to the unincorporated area. “Whether we’re serving papers or being there on a call, unlocking someone’s car or responding to a home situation. Sometimes it’s more than once a day, sometimes it’s just once a day, so it just varies. “
He said NIU and DeKalb police often respond in tandem, calling it a “good working relationship.”
“I don’t know if it will address the frequency of calls,” Sullivan said of a potential property owner change. “But I’m excited for the new developer to potentially buy the property. I think it will benefit the residents there. The main reason we’re doing it is we don’t have county-level code enforcement that the city does. I think it will benefit the residents in the future and going forward. I think it will be a win-win.”
Under Clear Investments’ ownership, the Suburban properties would be upgraded with security cameras, which would provide a live feed in all public and common areas to DeKalb and county law enforcement agencies. Private security would be on site “as needed” and regular security reviews by city and county police would take place, according to the proposal.
A win-win is what DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory called annexing the 80 acres to the city of DeKalb, in a memo sent to the DeKalb County Board Thursday.
As part of the proposed plan, the city of DeKalb would take the rental properties off its aging well water services and connect the complexes to the city of DeKalb’s existing water lines, something county officials said would not happen under the properties’ current ownership.
In what Nicklas called “an act of good faith,” the county government will contribute financially to help with water upgrades. The DeKalb County Board is expected to vote at its August meeting on whether to approve placing $862,500 in an escrow fund to be used for the installation and connection of water mains at the Suburban properties. The funds would come from the county’s share of federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act, according to county documents.
Suburban Estates and Apartments was built in 1967 and the complexes grew to 24 buildings and 532 units, according to county documents. The properties have existed under different owners over the years. Recently, the DeKalb County Board approved a solar garden for the 80-acre site.
Existing tenant concerns and water quality issues have also sparked concern among county officials, Gregory wrote, which he said are better addressed through annexation.
“Both the county and the city frequently receive phone calls with concerns related to property maintenance within individual units and the common areas,” Gregory wrote in his Thursday memo to the county board.
“Broken windows, broken pipes, water quality and pressure, heating and cooling issues, insects and mold have all been among the issues tenants have raised over the past five years,” Gregory wrote. “As the jurisdiction having authority, the county, which has limited code enforcement options under Illinois law, is significantly hampered in the tools it can use to address complaints and proactively demand improvements.”
The apartments are served by two private wells for water supply and fire fighting.
“The private system has been described as smelling bad, being yellow in color and having low pressure by current tenants when they call for assistance,” Gregory wrote.
Gregory said a former fire official also expressed concern about the low water pressure, saying if there was ever a fire on the property, the department would have to bypass the current system and cross to nearby properties to bring in water. Because the city of DeKalb is a home rule — a state legal designation for municipalities with populations of more than 25,000 — code enforcement and tenant concerns could be better addressed within city limits, Gregory said.
“From a conventional planning point of view, a development such as this would no longer be recommended outside municipal boundaries,” Gregory wrote.
Code enforcement issues were one of the aspects that led the city to reach an agreement with Evanston-based Hunter Properties, the former owners of Lincoln Tower and other properties purchased by Clear Investment. The city also bought the Hunter Hillcrest Shopping Center from the former landlord, which was the center of years of legal wrangling over hundreds of violations the city had enacted on Hunter.
Nicklas said city and county officials began discussing the future of the Suburban properties in earnest in the early spring.
“We thought it might be silly if we could get new ownership that would be more attentive to the tenant’s needs,” Nicklas said. “And they [Clear Investment] were interested.”