Des Plaines officials say government buyouts of seven flood-prone homes near the Des Plaines River finally will proceed after more than a year in limbo due to the state budget stalemate.
The seven homeowners were among the first in town to seek voluntary federal government buyouts after floodwaters ravaged their properties in 2008 and 2013. They all signed contracts for their homes to be purchased and torn down, but closings were held up when the last state budget expired in June 2015.
Those buyouts were to be partially funded with Illinois Department of Natural Resources money, but an agreement approved by the Des Plaines city council this week will instead allow more Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to be used.
FEMA originally committed $7.8 million and the IDNR $1.9 million for the first round of home purchases in 2014 -- a total of 21 properties, mostly along the oft-flooded Big Bend Drive.
The state money was supposed to act as the federal program's required local match and be allocated to a portion of each of the 21 buyouts. But the IDNR now says its $1.9 million all went to fund the purchase of the 11 homes that had closings before the state budget impasse began.
Jon Duddles, Des Plaines' assistant director of public works and engineering, said it took "creative accounting" to move forward on the purchase of the seven homes.
"I kept bugging the IDNR and (Illinois Emergency Management Agency), 'What are we doing with these people?'" said Duddles, who coordinates the buyout program on the local level. "We tried finding solutions."
Des Plaines actually fronted the money to purchase and demolish the first 11 homes, and officials hope to be reimbursed once a state budget is in place.
One of the seven homeowners in limbo, Jim Bataille, said Wednesday the promised buyout of his house on Big Bend Drive is bittersweet. That's because he and his wife had already bought a new two-bedroom townhouse on the south side of Des Plaines, anticipating they'd be able to afford mortgage payments, association dues, taxes and utilities with proceeds from the buyout of their old home.
Bataille ended up selling that house, all while cashing in a life insurance policy and borrowing money from friends to stay afloat.
"It's good news, but it digs up all the bad news, too," he said of the buyouts now going forward.
Duddles anticipates closings on the seven homes over the next several months before they are torn down and the properties left as city-owned open space. There are another three homes from the first round of buyouts that could be under contract if the homeowners agree to purchase offers, he said.
A dozen other buyouts continue in the second phase, funded with $3 million from FEMA and $1 million from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
The city council Nov. 7 is expected to consider an agreement for a previously announced third round of 47 buyouts, funded with $11.5 million from FEMA and $3.8 million from the water district.