Some City Council members want bigger focus on neighborhoods

Naperville City Councilman Joe McElroy wants the City Council to focus more on neighborhoods in the coming years.

“In my years on City Council, neighborhoods haven’t gotten the full attention they deserve,” he told the monthly meeting of the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation on Monday night.

McElroy joined his council colleagues in their annual appearance before the organization that first formed in 1979 to provide an umbrella group for area homeowner associations.

This month, the confederation left its usual meeting room at the Naperville Municipal Building to meet the public at the 95th Street Library.

While much of city government’s focus has in recent years been on bigger developments, particularly the Water Street development and other proposals near downtown, some neighborhoods are showing the effects of the economic downturn of the last few years and the real estate market crash that accompanied it.

McElroy is particularly concerned that some communities have excessive rentals and consist of housing stock that is beginning to be in need of significant repairs.

He stressed that the still-soft economy has also prompted a rise in foreclosures in recent years, a situation that lends itself to the deterioration of residential neighborhoods.

City Council member Steve Chirico agreed, noting that some Naperville neighborhoods have rental rates of as high as 38 percent.

“There are certainly some areas at risk,” he said.

One possible remedy for neighborhoods at risk would be a “landlord license,” which, if implemented properly, might address both the responsibilities of landlords and tenants, while allowing the city to have increased oversight, some council members said.

Other suburbs with such ordinances are North Chicago, Buffalo Grove and nearby Aurora.

McElroy acknowledged that the idea of some type of ordinance has been discussed in recent months by Naperville officials, but stopped short of endorsing anything specific.

He suggested a mixed approach of “carrots and sticks” to bring some relief to neighborhoods at risk, a range of possible financial incentives being the carrots with a new ordinance of some type being the stick.

McElroy warned that however the City Council and city staff decided to address the problem, delay was not an option.

“Blight is like cancer,” he said. “It spreads. It starts out very small, but if not dealt with, it spreads.”

City Manager Doug Krieger acknowledged that some communities have implemented ordinances regulating landlords, but echoed McElroy’s comments in calling for “striking a balance … not being overly burdensome, but enough for oversight.”

The housing issue came up again in a discussion about retaining seniors in the Naperville community who were facing rising housing costs and living on fixed incomes.

Council member Grant Wehrli noted that the city’s portion of the homeowner’s property tax bill is actually only around 11 percent, and suggested people with those issues might make their concerns known at school board and other meetings.

Chirico said that the key to keeping property taxes manageable was a strong business community.

But McElroy and Council member Judith Brodhead both hinted at more concrete action, with McElroy noting that the City Council was the ultimate decision-maker in matters of planning and zoning.

Retiring Homeowners Confederation Treasurer Boyd Briscoe implored City Council to do more to help veterans.

“A lot of our leaders aren’t veterans,” he said. “The city has some role in this area.”

McElroy said that one area the city might be able to help veterans was in employment opportunities.