URBANA — City officials are considering their next move after the receiver for the troubled Urbana Townhomes apartment complex in the 900 and 1000 blocks of South Lierman Avenue withdrew its appeal of the city's condemnation.
Officials first started condemning the group of eight buildings in March 2011, when the first two at 1001 and 1003 S. Lierman Ave. were started on a process that could end in demolition. Officials condemned another apartment building at 911 S. Lierman Ave. in March 2012. Five more, 901-909 S. Lierman Ave., were condemned this July.
As of Wednesday, there were 152 property maintenance code violations that needed to be addressed, said building safety manager John Schneider. Those could range anywhere from broken fixtures and glass to lacking or non-functional fire alarm systems.
"We condemned it because it's unfit for human occupancy," Schneider said.
At the time of the condemnations, there were nine families still living among 93 units, and "most of them had made arrangements to move," he said.
As of Schneider's last check, three units were still occupied. He told the city council in August that officials would be working to find housing for families that did not have a place to go.
Schneider said there may even be more code violations now that the properties have been boarded up and occasionally broken in to.
Robin Arbiter, a longtime resident of the immediate area who has become a leading voice for its improvement, said the apartment complex is a "serious threat to the health of our neighborhood."
"Given the condition of the Townhomes now, the removal of those buildings is going to be positive for the street," Arbiter said. "However, the long decline of that property, the long process of two foreclosures in seven years, deferred maintenance for that same amount of time, and the current state of legal wrangling that is taking place before removal will occur has been very hard on people who live here."
She said criminals have found a haven there among the unoccupied units. So have neighborhood children looking for a place to play and hang out.
"I've gone in the building myself, and I've seen conditions that pose clear health and safety risks for everyone in the neighborhood," Arbiter said.
On the other hand, she said, it's a significant loss of affordable housing. The complex had been a ready recipient of Section 8 housing vouchers and bad credit did not count against prospective tenants.
"A question that some of us ask is, with (93) units disappearing on those lots alone, where have these families gone that could only afford to stay there?" Arbiter said.
The overseers of the property still have time to correct the violations. But Schneider said the situation is complicated by the fact that the original owner of the property, Urbana Capital LLC, went into bankruptcy and a number of owners and property managers have taken and left control over the years.
In July, the city received a court order allowing it to demolish the first two buildings it condemned last year. The court-appointed receiver appealed the demolition but later withdrew its request for a hearing in front of a city review board.
"At this point, (officials are) in the process of deciding what the city's next option is," Schneider said.
The eight addresses are part of a single property that has been owned by California companies since 2006. The most recent of those California-based owners, Urbana Capital LLC, went into bankruptcy and foreclosure in 2011.
Schneider said the estimated cost of demolition of the first two buildings at 1001 and 1003 S. Lierman Ave. is $80,000. If the city were to proceed, officials would seek bids for the project, which would need city council approval.
If the city were to pay for the demolition, it could place a lien on the property to ensure that it would recoup its costs when the property changes hands.