Loan to beef up security at complex

Loan to beef up security at complex

CHAMPAIGN — Security improvements at the Hamilton on the Park housing complex will cost the Housing Authority of Champaign County — at least temporarily — after board members on Thursday agreed to loan the owners up to $200,000.

The money is to be used for fencing, automated gate access and temporary security guards at the complex at the northeast corner of Wright and Eads streets on the western border of Urbana. The 36-unit, low-income housing development has been the location for increased police calls lately, and officials are trying to chase off criminal activity.

A security fence around the property alone could cost $114,000 or more.

The property manager has contracted for three months with private security, and officials are also looking at adding cameras to the area.

The owners of the development have up to 45 years to pay back that money at 2 percent interest.

The complex itself is owned by The Benoit Group, an Atlanta-based developer which leases the land from the Housing Authority of Champaign County under a long-term contract. The Benoit Group contracts with Columbus, Ohio-based Wallick Communities to manage the property.

Representatives of the Champaign school district, the property owner, managers and the city of Urbana have met to examine the problems, and officials think they now have an enhanced security plan. Police tallied 49 calls at the complex in April, compared with 48 total in the first three months of the year.

Among the calls were at least two reports of shots fired — a man was injured during one of those shootings — and a large parking lot fight on May 3 when one woman was apparently stabbed in the head.

Housing Authority Executive Director Ed Bland told board members on Thursday that officials expect the fence will take care of a lot of the problems. They also say residents are beginning to take responsibility for visitors.

The Housing Authority is already working with The Benoit Group on two developments in Champaign: Providence at Sycamore Hills at the former site of Joann Dorsey Homes on Bradley Avenue and Providence at Thornberry in the southwest part of the city.

Both will be significantly larger than the Hamilton on the Park complex. Bland said similar measures are already being built into those two projects.

"Both of them as part of this construction work will have security in place," he said.

The developer also is planning to hire a different manager to oversee those two properties when they are occupied, Bland said.

He added that officials were not expecting to have such problems at Hamilton on the Park considering its relatively small size, but they are learning from their decisions not to include a fence or some of the other security features.

"Anytime you do a development, I think you learn what you did right and what you did wrong, and you go ahead and build on that," Bland said.