Owners of mobile homes in Fox Point affected by flooding in April received a two-week continuance Tuesday in Wheeling's administrative court. The residents of approximately 34 homes want to stay in the community and are reaching out to area nonprofits for assistance.
Wheeling believes the homes need repairs, and it is unhealthy and unsafe for people to live in them, City Manager Jon Sfondilis said after the hearing. Federal maps, not local standards, declare much of the land is in the floodway, and the village wants to help the residents find new places to live, he said. He also said that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has already given $217,000 to residents, but he did not know for what purpose or how it was divided.
FEMA has a buyout program and another program that would give the homeowners who must move the difference between what they pay for rent in Fox Point and what they would have to pay for rent in an apartment elsewhere, said Sfondilis.
The homeowners pay $565 a month to rent the land their mobile homes are on, said Javier Barrera, a resident.
"Only the municipality can formally apply for FEMA's buyout program," said Sfondilis. "That's because a portion of the monies must be contributed by the village. We don't know the full cost of the buyout, but the village at this point is fully committed to participating in that program."
Homeowners, who have been picketing by their homes on the 500 block of South Milwaukee Avenue and outside village hall, protested again before the administrative hearing. Their representatives asked for a longer continuance, but at the request of Mark Janeck, director of community development, were given two weeks until Sept. 16 for a status hearing.
The village is discriminating against the homeowners, many of whom are low-income immigrants, said Raul Montes Jr., who said he represents Father Joe Landaverde of an Anglican mission in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago.
"These people rely on Milwaukee Avenue for work and schools nearby," said Montes. The village codes cannot be applied to mobile homes, he added.
Montes also said damage to the homes is minimal, and the village wants the land for development.
Sfondilis and Janeck both denied the village wants the land, saying it is not fit for development.
Sfondilis also said the homes received damage costing more than 50 percent of their value, which triggers federal requirements that they be lifted one foot above the floodway elevation.
"There are sanitary issues and health hazard issues," said Sfondilis. "This was by far the most extensive of all the flood damage I've seen in the area. The water went all the way to Milwaukee Avenue. We would like to help people get money to move. I understand why they don't want to move. They own their homes, they have a community."
Homeowners object to requirements for work by engineers or architects to get building permits for repairs because it is too expensive, said Leonardo Chan, one of the residents.
Janeck said after the hearing that the residents would need to raise the homes if they are to continue to live there. Any other resident of the village would need to get engineering plans to put a pad with a three-foot foundation under the homes and raise them about 1.5 feet so that they are above flood level, he said.
Larry Fischer of Palatine Village Partners, owner of Fox Point, said at the hearing that he was representing the homeowners, but Janeck said an owner of the land could not represent the homeowners.
Fischer also said that some homeowners are represented by an attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation who was not at the hearing. Fischer asked for a delay to get soil tests done and said electrical conditions have been corrected.
"That's the most dangerous condition cited. The other conditions are questionable as to whether they are truly safety hazards," said Fischer.
Viki Rivkin, director of Fair Housing for Open Communities, based in Winnetka, asked for 30 days, saying the homeowners were investigating various options for "potential funding and other options for where they're going to be able to live. Some more time would be extremely helpful."
Sfondilis said the seven homeowners whose homes were declared uninhabitable have given up the fight to stay in their homes.