PEORIA — A ride down streets in South Peoria and the city’s North Valley shows many dilapidated, abandoned houses with boarded windows.
City officials have long tried to improve the look of some these blocks by demolishing homes that are unsafe or have a “blighting influence.”
The problem is, the vast majority of money budgeted for 2015 to raze the structures has been used. More than $750,000 has been spent knocking down 73 houses in just six and a half months. Most of these homes are in South Peoria, the East Bluff and the North Valley, said Assistant Community Development Director Joe Dullin. Last year, it took the city nearly 11 months to knock down the same number of structures.
These old abandoned buildings aren’t only eyesores but can be illegal shelters for the homeless, dangerous playgrounds for children and sites for criminal activity. In some blocks of South Peoria, up to 25 percent of the homes are boarded up or vacant, said Ross Black, community development director.
“Last year the city tore down more houses than we historically ever torn down in the south end, but there’s still a need and demand for more,” Dullin said.
Black said unless a building is an immediate danger to lives, such as the fire-damaged home at 401 NE Monroe St. that burned in late May, no progress will be made on the “list” of homes in need of demolition this year.
Even if more money was available, deciding to knock down homes that went through the lengthy process of getting a court order for demolition gets complicated when emergency cases arise.
“We were not anticipating a demolition (at 401 NE Monroe St.) and all of the sudden we have to do it,” he said. “We may go into a week saying ‘We can knock down this house, this house and this house’ and then we get a lot of rain or there’s a fire and we have to start all over again.”
At least seven more emergency demolitions occurred because of near-record rainfall and flooding in June.
Black did say the city is making progress on improving the appearance of neighborhoods, though it will be a number of years until the number of houses in need of demolition is under control.
Dullin said it is tough to determine exactly how many homes need to be knocked down because the department understands that it does not have the resources to secure all the court orders and pay for demolitions.
Black agreed saying, “Unfortunately there’s no lack of buildings that could be demolished. At least for the foreseeable future we’re going to have more properties that need to be demolished than we’ll have funds to do the demolitions.”
He said the increased need for demolition, which costs at least $8,000 per single family residence, is due to a lack of funding in the 1990s — the city simply wasn’t knocking down old houses. The problem has cascaded and now demand heavily outweighs supply, leaving blocks littered with homes that hurt the image of some neighborhoods.
Moreover, increased demolitions produce increased vacant lots, which also have a negative influence on a community’s appearance and requires upkeep that is paid for by the city. A legislative effort that would let the city impose liens on other properties across town — or elsewhere in the state — owned by the individuals who hold title to the dilapidated structures has been stymied.
“We’re just trying to catch up,” Black said. “Houses will simply continue to deteriorate and if you can demolish the houses that in the worst shape every year, then you can create stability in neighborhoods. The problem is once you get behind it’s really difficult to catch up unless you have a massive funding source that can come in and help.”
For a building to be torn down, the structure must meet one of 13 “dangerous building” criteria, which includes having boarded windows and entrances, outlined in chapter five of the City Code. A demolition order must be then granted by a judge, which can take six to nine months.
In 2014, about half of the 86 homes demolished were in South Peoria. The North Valley and East Bluff had 14 and 13 houses torn down, respectively.