Sewage backup leaves families without home

Sewage backup leaves families without home

CHAMPAIGN — City officials say they are still working with residents of four apartment units at a North Mattis Avenue complex where raw sewage backed up and poured out of the toilets, leaving residents' floors and belongings soaked with fecal matter.

The city condemned those units at Mattis North Apartments — formerly Garden Village Apartments — at 2006 N. Mattis Ave. on Tuesday, and their occupants were left without a home. The situation was so dire that one family attended Tuesday night's city council meeting pleading for help.

"I don't really know what I'm doing," said Drea Riley. "I just thought somebody should know and hopefully someone will care and get us some help."

Kerri Spear, the city's neighborhood programs manager, said the landlord found a hotel room for Riley's family of five — including three children — on Tuesday night, but officials are still working to make sure they have beds until their apartment can be cleaned up.

The apartment owner, Mattis North Apartments, did not return messages seeking comment on Wednesday.

Code compliance manager David Oliver said he met with the owners Wednesday morning. They were working to clear the sewer line that caused the problem, but a specific plan of action or timeline for cleaning up the apartment was still undetermined.

"Management seemed sincere this morning," Oliver said. "We outlined what needed to be done."

The backup flooded the apartments "probably a couple inches" with raw sewage, Oliver said. When the city investigated, Oliver said officials had no choice but to deem the residences unsafe and uninhabitable until they are cleaned up.

Meanwhile, the families had to scramble to find temporary housing.

"I'm doing whatever I can," Riley told city officials on Tuesday night. "I just want a safe place for my family and I to live."

In the past, the city had budgeted money for emergency relocation assistance for "large-scale displacements through no fault of the tenant," Spear said. That program was crafted after city officials in 2009 rushed to find new housing for dozens of people who had been living at Gateway Studios, 1505 N. Neil St., when it was announced the owners were behind on utility payments and power was about to be shut off.

The building has since been condemned and demolished. At the time, some of those residents received $2,000 emergency cash grants from the city.

But the emergency relocation funding that had been programmed into the budget after that instance was really crafted for big events like the Gateway Studios emergency, Spear said. It "possibly" could have helped in the condemnation of the four Mattis North Apartments units.

That question is moot, though. The city had not used that money in five years, so the line item was zeroed out and the money allocated to other programs in this year's budget.

The new budget year began Tuesday, the same day the apartments were condemned.

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