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With millions in unpaid rent lost, evictions begin after ban

Kankakee County Circuit Court — in particular Courtroom 110 of Associate Judge Nancy Nicholson — could be aptly renamed “Eviction Central.”

For much of the past 30 days and for much of the next few months, hundreds of eviction cases will be heard as rental property owners and managers seek to boot out non-paying or woefully behind renters.

On Wednesday alone, 25 evictions were granted.

The courtroom on that recent morning was a constant stream of tenants — many so far behind in payment that they have reached beyond $10,000 of past-due rent — and property owners seeking some type of relief, even if it means simply ridding themselves of these occupants.

One Kankakee County landlord, who owns approximately 600 residential rental units and is seeking evictions in 105 dwellings, estimated his tenants were behind on rent — in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic — to the tune of $600,000.

Another property manager, Steve Styck of Manteno-based Styken Property Management, was in court on Tuesday. He had four eviction cases before Judge Nicholson.

The properties his company helps manage — an estimated 250 — are working to remove woefully-behind renters.

One tenant appearing before Judge Nicholson has not paid his $700-a-month rent for an extended period. Styck estimated the occupant was some $12,000 in arrears of his rent.

Styck is also president of the recently formed Community Landlord’s Association which represents rental property owners in Kankakee, Iroquois and Will counties.

Styck explained there is an untold number of renters so far behind on rent that it will take them years to make good on their rents. He said landlords are willing to sacrifice the back rent in order to get those occupants out.

Case in point was Tuesday morning. A tenant before Judge Nicholson was approximately $12,000 behind on his rent. Through his attorney, Styck informed the court the property owner would forgive the rent in order for the tenant to be out by no later than 11:59 p.m. Nov. 21.

The judge warned the renter that if he wasn’t out, the agreement would be off.

“COVID is the excuse,” Styck said shortly after his hearings before the judge concluded. He stressed the word “excuse.”

The number of evictions set to take place across Kankakee County, Illinois and the United States has only just begun.

To illustrate: There were six Kankakee County evictions filed in July. The county’s circuit clerk’s office noted the number increased to 12 in August; 35 in September; and 105 in October. Through the first week of November, there were 15 eviction filings.

And with or without the income from rental properties, lenders were still seeking mortgage payments on the properties. To add to the frustrations, there was little in the way of stimulus money going to these property owners.

“The general sense of landlords is they have been on an island and they’ve gotten little help,” Styck said.

In Illinois, evicting a tenant can take two weeks to five months depending on the type of eviction and whether a stay of eviction is granted or a judgment is vacated. The eviction process in Illinois typically costs between $100 and $400.

Styck believes there will be many landlords who simply will make the move to sell the properties. Styck noted the owners he works for had plans of investing in their units, but that simply will not be the case any longer.

“There are a significant number of landlords who will not recover from this,” he said.

As for the tenants, he said, they will move on to another property. Some landlords are talking of raising rents and security deposits in an effort to recover.

Michelle Fitts of Bourbonnais, an owner of 18 rental properties in Kankakee and Bradley, has four properties where tenants have not been paying rent. One tenant owes $18,000.

“Most of my tenants have not missed a beat and I appreciate that. Others, however, have struggled to pay their rent and it caused her financial stress.

“They know they can get away with it,” Fitts said. “We still have bills to pay. We have mortgages on all of them and there is no grace shown to us by the county when our taxes are due.”

A social worker by trade, Fitts sometimes finds herself being too lenient with tenants.

“But this is a business,” she said, noting her non-paying tenants tell sad stories of why they are struggling to pay. She’s heard the stories of car repays, loss of work hours, health issues, etc.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “I try to give people a chance, but it wears on you. I guess I’m getting a little jaded.”

And she, like so many other property owners, wonders why the government has done so little to help landlords.

“It seems like we are the red-headed stepchildren,” she said. “We are stuck.”

Kankakee School Board gives OK for field house, community center

Editor's Note: This story was updated to correct the name of the architecture firm of record for the proposed field house/ community center project. The firm is DLA Architects.

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee School Board voted 6-1 to move forward with plans to build a field house/community center at Kankakee High School for an estimated cost of up to $16.5 million and approved a bid for an expansion and renovations to Kankakee Junior High School during this week’s meeting.

Board members Jess Gathing, Deb Johnston, Tracy Verrett, Mary Archie, Barbara Wells and Darrell Williams voted in favor of the field house/community center, and board member Christopher Bohlen voted against it.

Two options for the field house/ community center were presented by the district’s architecture firm, DLA Architects.

The larger option would include a 200-meter track, four basketball courts and four volleyball courts, as well as offices, trainer rooms and updates to the existing back gym space. This would cost an estimated $14.5 million to $16.5 million.

The smaller option would include a 180-meter track, three basketball courts, three volleyball courts and the same other amenities, for an estimated $13 million to $15 million.

Superintendent Genevra Walters said the district would use the third round of ESSER (federal COVID-19 relief) funds for the field house/ community center project.

Walters said the project fits with the district’s academic and athletic goals it has been working toward since 2014, when an athletic committee was formed.

“The school cannot work in isolation of the family; the family and the school cannot work in isolation of the community. At that intersection is the student,” she said.

In addition to space for athletics, the facility would also be used for other student activities such as the debate team, as well as community meetings, tutoring and the Youth Empowerment Program, she said.

“That’s really important to me, when you say community center, it has to be something for everyone, and not just people who are bodily-kinesthetic [learners],” Walters said.

Board member Christopher Bohlen said that while he is mindful of the need for athletic facilities, he feels that student achievement, performance and engagement are more pressing concerns.

“This is a lot of money that we are talking about, and I don’t think we’ve had enough time for public discussion, because we’re talking about spending a budget of $16.5 million for essentially a warehouse,” he said. “It’s four walls, a floor and a track painted on the floor and three or four basketball courts, and that’s all cool and that all will have an impact, but not as much impact in my opinion as spending as much money as we need and can to hire the people we need to do individual tutoring, interventionists, and for teacher supports.”

Board member Jess Gathing said that when he travels to other schools as a basketball official, he takes note of amenities that other communities have that may not have even been thought of in Kankakee.

“We’ve been blessed here in the last five or six years; we’ve got $30 million for construction to rebuild the high school, and I tell you people, I’m damn proud of what the high school looks like because we had the blessing of the construction funds to do it,” Gathing said. “COVID has now pushed money our way to where we could build the field house, and that’s something that we don’t have in this community that a lot of communities in the north have.”

Board member Deb Johnston said that as a former teacher and coach in the district, she saw multiple physical education classes being clumped together in the back and front gyms, which was “not a very good teaching experience at all.”

She noted that the extra space would allow teams to finish their practices earlier and cut the need for 6 a.m. and late evening practices unless they are wanted.

“The ability to have this field house as a teaching station for PE and also for coaching — you can’t put a price on this,” Johnston said.

Board Vice President Darrell Williams said the field house/community center has too much potential to pass up the opportunity. He noted the JROTC program has been growing and could use the facility, and the extra community meeting space would also be a benefit.

“The potential is just unreal, and to not do this, to be cheap, I would say — you have the money. It’s for the kids. You should use it for the children,” Williams said.

Board member Tracy Verrett said she is tired of having to go to other communities for amenities such as athletics facilities when Kankakee is supposed to be the center of the county.

“As far as this structure, this is going to outlive us, and I think this is something we need for our community,” Verrett said. “We are going to set the standard in Kankakee for athletics and for everything else going in this field house. We would be doing our kids and Kankakee a disservice if we didn’t do this.”

Two community members also spoke in favor of the project during public comment, and the audience applauded when it was approved.

Junior high project

The junior high construction bid was also approved 6-1 with the same vote breakdown.

Director of Finance Nicole Terrell-Smith said that six general contractors attended the pre-bid meeting for the junior high project, and four bids were received. The lowest bid was from Chicago Heights Construction Company for $7,927,915.

The work will include expanding and renovating the cafeteria, kitchen, student learning center, front entry driveway, sidewalks and courtyard. ESSER money will go toward funding this project as well.

The construction schedule has a start date of Dec. 13 and a projected substantial completion date of Aug. 12, 2022, according to board documents.

Office renovations would cost an additional $2.4 million, likely from the district’s own fund balances, and were not included in the approved bid.

This additional work could be brought back to the board for approval upon consulting with the contractor.

Bohlen suggested to include the full scope of the junior high plans with this project, rather than postponing a portion of the work.

COVID-19 report

Also during the meeting, Walters gave an update on the district’s current COVID-19 numbers.

As of Monday, there have been 37 adults test positive since school started in August, and no adults currently are in quarantine.

For students, 104 have tested positive since school started, and 37 currently are in quarantine.

Son arrested in mother's death

KANKAKEE — The 27-year-old son of a Kankakee woman slain Thursday morning has been arrested in her death.

Police say Devail A. Bryant, Kankakee, the eldest son of 46-year-old Tomina D. Green, shot and killed his mother sometime early Thursday at her residence in the 800 block of South Dearborn Avenue in Kankakee.

Bryant was not expected to be charged Friday as the Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s Office had not reviewed the case file as of 9:15 a.m. Friday. Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said charges would likely be filed Saturday morning at the bond court held at the Jerome Combs Detention Center.

Following the Thursday incident, Bryant went to the Kankakee Police Department in downtown Kankakee and turned himself into police, Kankakee Police Chief Robin Passwater said.

Upon explaining to police what had transpired, police officers went into the residence and found Green, Passwater said.

Kankakee police noted Bryant did not live with his mother. The circumstances surrounding the incident have not yet been released.

Homicide stats

Green’s death marked the 14th homicide in Kankakee County in 2021. This year has had the most homicides in recent years.

Ten homicides occurred in 2016, which was the year that previously had the highest number of homicides in recent years, according to coroner’s office data.

County board approves $570,000 in COVID relief funding

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County Board unanimously gave the final approval for 12 requests of funding totaling more than $570,000 in American Rescue Plan Act dollars at its full board meeting Tuesday morning.

Small businesses, local government departments, a park district and several nonprofits were included in the requests.

Robert Ellington-Snipes, who represents District 18, abstained from voting on funding for Garden of Prayer Youth Center because he sits on its board of directors.

The largest request was for funds not to exceed $156,854 to repair and replace a sewer lift station on Main Street in Hopkins Park.

It includes pumps, rails, an electric panel and associated components as well as a lift station bypass. The pump has been inoperable for more than a month.

To allow spending on the project, the board unanimously authorized the board chairman or designee to sign an intergovernmental agreement with Pembroke Township, within Hopkins Park, for wastewater system repair.

“This document has to exist to remove all liability from the county because it’s not our project; we’re paying for it,” said board chairman Andy Wheeler before the vote on the motion.

“We don’t want to carry that liability forward for 20 years and have something break and then they say, you fixed it, you gotta pay for it.”

Wheeler added that if more funds or modifications were needed for the repairs, they would have to be proposed to and approved by the finance committee and then the board.

Sam Payton, a board member who is also the Pembroke Township supervisor, expressed his support of the funding plan and intergovernmental agreement at the Oct. 21 finance committee meeting.

The board also unanimously approved an amendment that changed the wording of a resolution on American Rescue Plan fund requirements to distinguish that nonprofits which serve people outside of their municipality can get up to $10,000 from the county in ARPA funds.

“Our current policy says if you’re within a municipality, then you’re eligible for $5,000 from the county,” Wheeler said. “This would say that if you’re countywide and you can document that, by maybe ZIP codes of those you serve, we’re being very flexible on the method, then we’ll be able to do the full $10,000.”

The rule change only applies to nonprofits that serve people throughout the county.

Carol Webber, who represents District 11, questioned how the wording had been changed to give nonprofits more leeway.

“I don’t see how this is an amendment. Where is the amended part?” she asked.

It was explained that the resolution originally said “businesses” and “nonprofits” located in a municipality needed to get a 50 percent funding match in their municipality, maxing them out at $5,000, but “nonprofits” was removed from the section.

Steven Hunter, who represents District 17, asked if and how the board would be able to grant a countywide nonprofit more than $10,000 if they needed it.

“We would have to go back through that process, through executive committee and establish or amend that current policy that we’ve adopted,” Wheeler said. “We also can reauthorize another round of [ARPA funding] down the road.“

Budget passes

Also unanimously approved was the county’s combined annual budget for the fiscal 2021-2022 year.

Finance Department director Steve McCarty offered some highlights of the budget, which is available on the county government’s website. He said the{span id=”docs-internal-guid-a71e24fa-7fff-65ab-64a7-f67a50be54f8”}{span} general fund’s total balance is $32.6 million, the debt service and special revenue funds are $31.3 million, highway funds are $30.3 million and the health department and 911 funds make $9.6 million. {/span}{/span}

“T{span id=”docs-internal-guid-a3c31b28-7fff-9b79-d341-f82b3dd29a72”}{span}he total budget is $104,032,176,” McCarty said. “{/span}{/span}It’s about $12 million higher than our original FY21, primarily due to budgeting for the ARPA funds, and the FY22 general fund expense budget is 1.4 million less than the FY21 budget that we’re currently finishing up.”