Urbana City Council discusses homelessness

Community activists appealed to the Urbana City Council at Monday’s meeting, asking for local government invention in dealing with the recent increase in the homeless population due to the condemnation of Gateway Studios last Wednesday.

Gateway Studios, on 1505 N. Neil Street, was motel building, but it housed many low-income permanent residents. Although the residents were paying their rent, the landlord failed to pay the gas and electric bills. After falling $44,000 dollars in debt to Ameren, the building was officially condemned.

“It’s not the tenant that caused the condemnation, it’s the landlord that caused the condemnation,” said Danielle Chynoweth, former Urbana alderwoman.

“I think of Urbana as a city with a big heart. It’s important that we don’t see innocent people who are paying their bills getting condemned. The government has a role to protect these people,” she added.

The activists suggested that Urbana and the surrounding cities should have ordinances that provide each family with $2,000 towards relocation and should reimburse their lost deposits.

A similar situation occurred in Rantoul at Autumn Glen Apartments where unpaid electric bills resulted in the condemnation of the building and displacement of tenants.

“In both cases the people that were affected were low income people,” said Belden Fields, retired professor of political science at the University and community activist. “I only found one person that we talked to at Gateway Studios that was not African American.”

“The second similarity was that all of them were working,” he added.

The majority of low wage workers in Champaign County struggle to support themselves. The displacement of this amount people highlights this along with the lack of affordable housing.

Many landlords will not rent to people unless their income is three times that of their rent. Most rents are more than three times the minimum wage and deposits are additional obstacle, said Chynoweth.

As a result, many of the displaced tenants have nowhere to go.

“I talked to two guys who said they were going to sleep under the train tracks and these are people with full time jobs,” Chynoweth added.

Discrimination is an additional problem for people trying to find housing. There is racial discrimination, but there is also discrimination against families, said Randall Cotton, citizen activist.

“Many landlords discriminate against single parents and kids,” he added.

Activists plan to appeal to the Champaign City Council on Tuesday and request that they too support an ordinance that requires a relocation payment to tenants.

“We have an enormous problem of low-wage income – people cannot support themselves,” Belden said. “We haven’t recognized some of the problems that have been going on all along.”