All tenants at Cherry Orchard apartments in rural Rantoul appear to be close to finding new homes.
For a while, it didn't look like that would happen.
Julie Pryde, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District administrator spearheading efforts, said it has been more than difficult to find permanent homes. All of the tenants are migrants.
At issue in most cases was the residents' way of conducting business.
"What we're finding out is, the migrant community, whether from Texas or Mexico, they have basically a cash economy," Pryde said. "They do not use credit. They pay cash. That makes you more vulnerable."
While it might make things simpler in many cases for the migrants, it has caused headaches in finding permanent homes for them.
Because the migrants deal in cash, they have no credit history, and as a result most landlords were not willing to rent to them.
All of the tenants were offered the opportunity to move out of Cherry Orchard on Jan. 5. The Salvation Army agreed to pay to put them up in motels until permanent housing could be found.
At issue at Cherry Orchard were the unsafe and unsanitary conditions of the apartment complex, located south of Rantoul. The caretakers of the property, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos, had agreed to close five of the eight buildings at the facility because of sanitary conditions. When the Ramoses failed to comply with a December deadline, a Champaign County circuit judge ordered them to stand trial this month. It is unknown how many buildings remain occupied.
The Cherry Orchard tenants had been paying $500 a month rent, which was supposed to include utilities. But Pryde said she has been told by tenants that the Ramoses would occasionally tell the tenants they had to pay more or the heat would be shut off. Despite paying, the heat and water were frequently shut off.
The Ramoses could not be located for comment.
Social service agencies and government officials met Jan. 5 to discuss relocating the tenants. But more than a week later, no permanent housing could be found.
"This is possibly one of the more disheartening things I've worked on in my career," Pryde said.
While lack of a credit history was given as the reason in most cases, one landlord made it clear it was something other than that. The landlord used "blatant discriminatory terms, which I was shocked at," Pryde said.
As the week progressed and many calls went out, permanent homes were found for the two families and three single men living at Cherry Orchard. Pryde was more optimistic on Thursday.
Pryde said one family will move into a small house and one family into an apartment. The three single men will live in an apartment together. Another single woman will move back to Texas.
"The one place is willing to really work with the family and relax some of the" requirements, Pryde said. "The other place has a history of working with migrants. It's not the most ideal situation because it's still a small place. They're coming from small and dangerous to small."
Pryde said she has been surprised at how willing the tenants had been to accept unsafe, unsanitary conditions. She said they don't seem to realize it's not OK for a landlord to shut off the heat in the middle of the winter.
One man asked if his new home would have carpet, because resting on a bare floor is especially cold when the heat is turned off.
Pryde said several agencies have pledged to help monetarily. Furniture has been found.
"I've got bunk beds for the kids, and dressers and new mattresses ready to move into a place," Pryde said.
The Salvation Army paid more than it originally planned to in order to put the tenants up in motels. Individuals wanting to send checks to the Salvation Army to defray the expenses may send them to 2212 N. Market St., Champaign, IL 61820, attention Jennifer. Indicate "Cherry Orchard" on the memo line.