Arguments resumed before a Wheeling administrative hearing officer Monday over the village's efforts to force residents of the Fox Point mobile home community to make extensive repairs to properties damaged by April's floods or leave their homes.
Wheeling officials say they are protecting residents' health and safety, but the residents' attorney claims they want to push out the community's mainly Hispanic residents who have few resources beyond the mobile homes they own.
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Proceedings moved slowly Monday as residents' attorney Kelli Dudley took about two hours to present the case for just one of her clients. She represents most of the 39 homeowners who are protesting the village's actions. The community had about 50 homes, but owners of those most seriously damaged have moved out.
Mark Janeck, Wheeling's director of community development, denied the village's purpose was to get residents to move, even though much of the property along the Des Plaines River near Milwaukee Avenue is in a floodway, a designation much more prone to flooding than a floodplain.
"This was the first time in five years that I have been here that a flood has caused as much and as extensive damage to structures," said Janeck. "There are federal and local regulations in place at this site. This is a situation where the occupants of these units are in a completely unsafe situation. The issues that abound on this property are incredible."
Hearing Officer Victor Puscas said he would rule before the next meeting Nov. 11 on Dudley's motions to dismiss the village's cases against her clients.
She argues that the village did not present enough detail about repairs and changes that the homes need, and village officials were not helpful in clarifying. She also challenged Wheeling's jurisdiction, saying only the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can make regulations relative to mobile homes.
Dudley noted that a notice sent to residents discouraged repairs.
"Please be aware that due to the poor condition and age of this structure, ability to further remediate is unlikely," a paragraph in the notice read.
Janeck read from a notice of unsafe conditions sent to Ranulfo Teran, Dudley's client whose case was heard Monday. The notice, sent a few days after floodwaters receded and village officials inspected Fox Point, included the assertion that support elements were sinking into the soil and shifting, which could make gas pipes and electric wires unsafe. The forced air ducts also seemed damaged, he said. The electric service panels also were cited, and the external panels are the only things that have been fixed at the community, Janeck said.
The community development director said the sanitary sewage facility at the mobile home community was affected by floodwaters, insulation on the homes was damaged, and debris and garbage were strewed about the property.
Dudley's clients have filed a federal lawsuit against the village alleging racial discrimination in its handling of matter. Gregory T. Smith, an attorney for the village, said the suit is on hold until Dec. 10 to allow the village hearings to proceed.