Woodstock, Harvard receive grant funding for abandoned properties

Grants allow for changes to costly Woodstock, Harvard homes left behind

On East Lake Street in Woodstock, just past Raintree Park, a house sits in disrepair.

The estimated 1-acre lot is overrun with weeds and tall grass. An occasional stray cat wanders through the jungle-like lawn. The roof of what once was a home is caving in, and the siding is falling off. The well and septic might be damaged. The inside has been stripped for the most part, aside from a tree growing inside the unit.

The property is one of about six throughout the city that has been abandoned. What once was a home on the tax rolls is set to be demolished on the city’s dime within the next several months.

The Illinois Housing Development Authority has awarded grants to several McHenry County municipalities to address abandoned and dilapidated properties.

Amounts have varied, but the idea is the same – clean them up or get rid of them. Officials said the properties cause a strain on city resources, make for eyesores and are dangerous.

The house on East Lake Street has been empty since 2010, and it’s not the only home that went vacant around that time, Woodstock building and zoning director Joe Napolitano said.

“With the financial crisis, when all the bad mortgages were issued, is when we started seeing an uptick in foreclosed properties,” he said. “People couldn’t pay, and a lot of them just walked away.”

When a property owner washes his or her hands of the problem, the matter can become stuck in limbo between the owner, mortgage company and bank, Napolitano said.

“It does become a burden,” he said. “We try to contact the property owner, but oftentimes they are long gone. Sometimes the bank that holds the mortgage is tied up in the court system, and some foreclosures go on for years.”

The banks can claim they don’t own the property until the mortgage is released. In the meantime, municipalities are left to pick up the pieces.

“We often end up mowing the grass and trying to make sure it stays closed up,” Napolitano said. “It’s an issue. It’s an issue for the person that has to live next to it, and it’s an issue for the neighborhood.”

About four years ago, the city developed a distressed properties program, which maintains its own line item in the city budget. The $30,000 IHDA grant will supplement costs to maintain, acquire and demolish these dilapidated properties.

The city has seen some success with the program.

A local remodeling company in 2016 bought a formerly abandoned home at 315 W. Judd St. The city had acquired the property in March 2016, paid about $3,000 in legal fees, and Lafontaine Enterprises bought the house for the same amount.

The same company has bought another abandoned home on Washington Street and is in the process of remodeling it.

The developer plans to divide the lot and build another home, which means more property tax revenue for the city, Napolitano said.

Woodstock isn’t the only recipient of housing funds to deal with these problems. The city of Harvard recently was awarded $100,000 to deal with its abandoned homes, City Administrator Dave Nelson said.

There are three homes within the city of Harvard that need to be dealt with, but the city must take legal steps to acquire the properties before moving forward with any remediation, Nelson said.

Municipalities must go through the court system to obtain abandoned properties through a judicial deed, which is time-consuming.

One of the Harvard homes has been vacant for at least 10 years, and the two others have been abandoned for more than three years, Nelson said.

“We’ve been doing maintenance of the lawns and general maintenance to secure them,” he said. “It’s nothing egregious really, but people just walk away, and then the banks walk away, too. It’s crazy.”

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