Northen Urbana housing complex to be demolished

By Charles Menchaca

There is a small ghost town in north central Urbana.

A small sign gives five rules for a playground: No selling of drugs, no alcoholic beverages, no gambling, no loitering and no fighting. But there is no activity in sight.

Lakeside Terrace, the largest public housing complex for families in Champaign County, is set for demolition in January. All families were moved out over six months from Feb.-Aug. 2005 so that work can begin on its redevelopment.

The redevelopment represents a trend of using Hope VI grants to tear down unsatisfactory housing. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Hope VI Demolition grants fund the demolishing of poor housing, the relocation of residents and provide supportive services for them.

Between fiscal years 1996 and 2003, 57,593 units were funded for demolition nationwide. 13,002 of those units were in the state of Illinois. The demolition of Lakeside Terrace will remove 99 units from Champaign County.

When Nathilena Harris moved into apartment number 96 at Lakeside in 1992, she did not think she would stay there long. She was pregnant with her first child and moved out of her mother’s apartment.

“It was so convenient for me,” said Harris, 33, sitting in her new apartment at Woodstone Townhomes.

According to the Housing Authority of Champaign County, Lakeside Terrace was completed on Nov. 1, 1952. It had 99 livable units on 8.92 acres of land.

“Environment-wise, it was a beautiful location,” said Jim Hayes, former Ward 3 Alderman of the Urbana City Council. Lakeside Terrace is within Ward 3 boundaries.

The Lakeside Terrace complex is across the street from Crystal Lake Park and trees border the site’s east and south side. Directly south of the site is the Saline Branch Drainage Ditch.

Although the area around Lakeside stayed nice, the buildings were obsolete. Edward Bland, executive director for the housing authority, said the apartments had only tubs, no washers and dryers and unacceptable dimensions.

Building conditions were not the worst problem for Harris. Harris said she was tired of people getting shot and witnessing gang fights.

“When I came on, it was a problem,” said Lt. Mike Metzler, who has been with the Urbana police department for 26 years. Urbana Police Chief Eddie Adair said Lakeside was the number-one call destination for police when he entered the department in 1994.

Terri Roberts, who lives two houses north of the site, said the area had noisy traffic and loud music. She said her house was broken into a few times since moving in eight years ago.

Hayes said there were repeated problems with the boyfriends of single women that lived in the apartments.

Hayes said they would use the apartment to sell drugs.

Adair said the residents of the Lakeside public housing site were predominately female and their boyfriends were not residents.

Adair said Lakeside was kept safe by efforts from the residents of Lakeside, the housing authority and the police department. He said site manager Patricia Adkinson really helped to turn the place around. Adkinson’s arrival in 2000 brought the formation of a resident’s council and a neighborhood watch.

“We got the residents more involved in their community,” Adkinson said.

She said the housing authority evicted those whose units were housing drug activity, but they had to have concrete proof.

“That’s a hard thing to do,” Adkinson said.

Adkinson said there were also incidents of domestic violence and damaging property. She said people that caused trouble at Lakeside were monitored and eventually barred.

Adair said there were less calls for police activity as time went on.

“Everybody at Lakeside wasn’t bad,” said Tina Miller, who also lives two houses away from Lakeside Terrace.

Miller said some of them did not have a good enough education to escape the area.

Harris said everybody knew each other at Lakeside.

“My kids always went to one of my friend’s houses,” Harris said.

There was also a Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club located within Lakeside Terrace. It was open to all children in the surrounding area.

The official news of relocation and demolition came after two attempts to acquire the money over eight years.

The Housing Authority of Champaign County had to receive the city of Urbana’s support on their grant application. It then competed with other grant proposals to acquire funding for the next fiscal year.

“There was a time where maybe they thought it wasn’t going to happen,” Adkinson said of the residents.

Funding was awarded to the housing authority on Oct. 14, 2004. Bland said they received a Hope VI Demolition grant for $915,000. Housing Authority studies show it would have taken $14.6 million to renovate the existing units.

After everyone moved out, Harris went by in her car to look at the site in October.

“I went through to see if it was empty,” she said.

In the end, Harris lived at Lakeside for 15 years.

“To me, it was like one big family,” she said.