Walls tumbling down

Jennifer Bailey|Commercial-NewsThe Danville Public Works Department started demolishing one of six Fair Oaks public housing buildings on East Fairchild Street on Monday to create more space within the complex and improve public safety. More than 130 people had to relocate due to the project, with most of them moving to other communities, according to officials with the Housing Authority of Danville.

DANVILLE – The first of six Fair Oaks public housing buildings slated for demolition started coming down Monday morning.

The city’s Public Works Department started demolition work about 20 minutes after its initial expected start time of 9 a.m. on the first building along East Fairchild Street. A second power line was initially spotted, but it had been disconnected, said Jaclyn Vinson, Housing Authority of the City of Danville Executive Director.

In talking Monday morning to a little boy who lives in Fair Oaks, Vinson told him he’d soon have an open field to practice football on with the first building demolition.

Another nearby Fair Oaks resident, Jamelia Foster, 34, has only been living there for about a week. She was awakened by the demolition work outside her front door. She said she moved here with her six children from Chicago after being advised by her sister to put in an application, to get away from the Windy City's crime rate.

The Housing Authority of the City of Danville is paying the city a cost not to exceed $110,000 for the demolitions of the buildings at 940-956 Lewis Lane, 1639-1653 Fairchild Street, 900-918 Wakely Drive, 924-942 Wakely Drive, 901-919 Belton Drive and 922-940 Belton Drive.

There are 57 units being demolished, with the majority of the 130 displaced individuals having moved out of the area. The demolition will leave about 36 residential buildings of Fair Oaks’ 42 structures which include the administration, laundry and other buildings.

Danville Public Works Director Carl Carpenter has said some of the building material will be recycled, such as the city taking the brick to other contractors to be crushed and reused.

Carpenter said it will take about seven weeks to take the buildings down. It’s estimated it will take one week to demolish each building, with a little extra wiggle room.

According to Vinson, “This demolition project marks a crucial step towards improving public safety and demonstrates the housing authority's commitment to improving the quality of our affordable housing stock in Vermilion County.

“By late summer, each of the six buildings that were once home to 57 families, will be gone, the foundations removed and the area returned to green space. The Housing Authority of the City of Danville continues to remain committed to providing affordable housing options to residents within the City of Danville and Vermilion County. We look forward to serving our residents through this relocation process and enabling them a level of higher independence and improved quality of life,” Vinson stated through a press release.

Local housing authority officials also plan to submit an application for demolition of Ramey Court in Georgetown on the basis of physical obsolescence. Vinson said that submission is on hold due to the Vermilion County Housing Authority dealing with mortgage issues of the 26 units in 13 duplexes.

It was in the 1940s that the housing authority developed the 326-rental unit, public housing development known as Fair Oaks. The housing complex contains one-, two-, three-, four- and five-bedroom family rental units on the city's east side.

More than a year ago the housing authority submitted a Phase 1 demolition application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The housing authority received HUD approval for the demolitions in November 2018. The housing authority also has discussed setting aside funds for another round of demolishing Fair Oaks housing units in a few more years. Officials haven’t set another number of units to demolish.

City and housing authority officials have long said they want to reduce the density at the largest public housing complex in the city to improve quality of life and decrease crime and other issues.

“That’s not how our citizens of Danville should be forced to live, in those conditions,” housing authority board president Pat O’Shaughnessy has said of the compacted barrack-style apartments that were popular in the 1940s and 1950s. He said they want to eliminate that density of living.

“We have bigger plans for development to provide a different style of mixed-income living,” O’Shaughnessy also has said, about housing also being close to transportation and other amenities.

In May, the Illinois Housing Development Authority didn't approve the housing authority's tax credit application for $15 million in downtown mixed-income housing. Vinson said a review of the application will occur July 23 to see what hindered it. THe housing authority will work with the city administration in possibly submitting another application in the future.

Housing authority officials in 2015 submitted a special application center proposal to HUD to demolish three buildings with 27 units of Fair Oaks’ 326 units.

The proposed buildings then were on the east side of the complex near Moore Street. There were badly deteriorated floors and interiors of many units in the three identified buildings to demolish. The buildings, which aren’t the oldest in the complex, were built in 1951-1952.

Housing authority officials in 2015 were unable to justify the physical obsolescence of the buildings even though the housing authority indicated it would take more than $2 million to address building deficiencies. HUD has a calculation regarding funding and the total development cost.

The buildings now being demolished are more in the center of the complex, with only one on the far east side and one along Fairchild Street. Demolishing those buildings will open up more space among the close buildings.

The housing authority will lose government subsidy due to fewer housing units, but Vinson said the housing authority can better strategize on using the limited HUD funding to improve the infrastructure they will be keeping for the long term.