If you live in a single family home anywhere in Aurora, what stops investors from snatching your neighbor's home in a depressed market and converting it into a rooming house or student housing or even a frat house?
But, that's been a growing problem on Aurora's west side in the areas surrounding Aurora University.
With an increasing student population and demand for housing, investors are targeting homes that are in foreclosure or depressed values to snatch them up, convert them into rooming houses and peddle them to students or others.
A four bedroom house next door could suddenly go from a family to 8 college kids with 8 cars, not including their friends and leaving aside if they are wild and crazy college kids with parties, booze and noise.
Alderman Rick Lawrence took the initiative to address this issue in 2011 and, with the cooperation of Aurora University, a Neighborhood Council was created to deal with how to deal with existing problems with those students, creating consequences between the students from the university.
However, that dealt with the problems after they happened. Lawrence suggested a process, similar to how it's done in Evanston with Northwestern University that would evaluate each situation before converting a home and providing a special-use permit only to those situations where it would not negatively impact a neighborhood.
In those situations where dorm-like, rooming houses were approved, a special-use permit would also mean that investors would have accountability if the situation turned out not to be in the best interest of the neighborhood.
Lawrence says not all investors are the same. Some may seek situations to exploit and turn a big profit without any regard to the negative impact to the community and taxpayers. Others may seek to add value and improve the neighborhood, but the current situation lacks any guidelines or process to determine what is coming or for taxpayers to express their view before it happens.
"Aurora University has been very cooperative on addressing concerns with the neighborhood, but while AU has a level of control over their students, they don't have any control over the investors. As a city, we need to make sure that we protect quality of life in our neighborhoods and investments of taxpayers in their homes when considering any impact" said Lawrence.
In 2011, Lawrence's proposal to create such a process was discussed by the Planning and Development Committee, but then later put on hold to allow for time for the Neighborhood Council to form and address problems.
Meanwhile, investors are continuing to snatch up more homes.
One investor, Kevin Fitzpatrick, recently bought a home on LeGrande, on the same street as City Assistant Chief of Staff Chuck Nelson and So-Called Corporation Counsel Alayne Weingartz, saying he would just put a family there for a rental.
Instead, it's now going to stuffed with college kids.
Lawrence, in a letter to Mayor Tom Weisner and the Aurora City Council, is urging the Planning and Development Committee to resume the discussion to come up with a process that would evaluate these situations and prevent a neighborhood from suddenly being impacted without warning.
But, Lawrence also points out this doesn't affect just the neighborhoods around Aurora University on the west side. This could and does happen anywhere. Rooming houses have sprung up in various parts of the city for different purposes and creating a process would protect all neighbhorhoods in the same manner.
"Every homeowner in Aurora, regardless of where they live, deserves to their quality of life protected and an opportunity to evaluate any potential change or impact before it happens. And, when we make decisions as a city council on a given situation, we are accountable for them, too" said Lawrence.
Continue reading for excerpts of Lawrence's letter to Mayor Weisner and the Aurora City Council:
Back in March of 2011, I suggested that we look into enacting a similar ordinance to one that Evanston adopted to control and monitor homes being converted into off campus housing for students (see email below).
The P&D committee heard several ideas on the matter ranging from the Evanstons ordinance to a wide expansion of building code requirements. The issue was tabled to allow us time to work with Aurora University.
Over the past year a Neighborhood Council has been formed consisting of myself, Dr Lora De Lacey, Dean of Student life at A.U., members of her staff, coaches, A.U. Police, a student representative, Aurora Police, area residents and landlords.
The program has been extremely effective at dealing with issues as they arise. The addition of the student representative on the council has been a great tool for communication with the estimated 120-plus students living off campus in our neighborhood. He has done a great job.
The response by Aurora University to residents concerns or issues such as parties, property conditions and the general impact of have having a university in the middle of a residential area has been outstanding. It has been a very positive and proactive approach to build a strong relationship between the surrounding neighborhood and Aurora University.
However, the issue that is beyond the control of the Neighborhood Council and is still having a tremendous impact on our city is the ever expanding conversion of single family homes into dorm style living arrangements.
We are seeing an increase of investor groups packaging and peddling our neighborhoods as a great investment to convert homes from their original intent.
Some of these homes having four bedrooms will house up to 8 individuals, with 8 cars, and various levels of maintenance, changing the dynamics of a neighborhood.
The Evanston approach is simple and can be applied across our city to many rental properties in our city. Evanston by ordinance classifies such use to be a "rooming house" and along with various code requirements it requires a special use permit approved by City Council.
* It allows for a process by which to follow to change the intended use of a single family home.
* It allows for the residents and taxpayers of any particular area to have a voice of converting these homes by investors looking to profit off of depressed property values.
* It allows us as City Council prior to approving a special use permit, to do our due-diligence, to understand the impact, to make a judgement if the development fits any particular neighborhood and to understand the over-all situation of a particular property being converted to this use.
Currently, we have little ability to protect the neighbors from this type of investment group. A special use permit can be removed if the investors are not responsive to or acting in the best interest of the neighborhood.
Lets be clear, this is not about bringing families to our neighborhoods, this is purely about generating the highest return on investment, many times at the expense of the neighbors quality of life and their investment in their own homes.
I would ask for the P& D Committee to bring the issue back for discussion and that City Council would implement an ordinance similar to what other communities have adopted.
Alderman, City of Aurora