City withdraws from homeowner enforcement case that brought criticism from Evanston activists

By Bob Seidenberg
The City of Evanston on Jan. 28 officially withdrew as plaintiff in a longstanding property enforcement complaint case against a north Evanston homeowner. The case had been receiving increasing attention lately from local activists as a misuse of government power.
In a virtual hearing before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil H. Cohen on Jan. 27, Alexandra Ruggie, an assistant attorney for the city, informed the judge that the city was officially withdrawing from the suit filed against Doreen Price, owner of a property at 711 Roselyn Terrace.
With the action, the city abandoning its pursuit of the case, which was moving toward demolition.
Price, who retired early as a research scientist at Searle-Pfizer after 30 years, is still facing legal ramifications from the sale of a reverse mortgage she took out on her home in 2012 in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
The companies
obtained in 2012reverse mortgage moving aside for two foreclosure companies seeking $58,000 in back payments from Price, a senior citizen who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to court filings.
Price, a senior citizen who emotionally after the judge opened up comment following the city’s decision.
“This should never have gone to court,” she said. “I understand there might be someone else in a similar situation, and the City of Evanston has to stop criminalizing need.”
The city had aggressively pursued the case, which began with a neighbor’s complaint of overgrown grass on Price’s property.
The city’s suit was filed against Price, owner of the home since 1983, in July 2020, when Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurkski was Corporation Counsel. It alleged “dangerous and unsafe conditions” at the house and threatened demolition of the property.
The suit cited a roof that showed heavy moisture underneath the shingles and other code violations.
In February this year, the city sought permission from the court to proceed with receivership of the property.
A case that felt ‘like an aggressive manner’: Council member Kelly
In recent months, Price a frequent and often articulate speaker and writer on affordable housing and other equity issues, received support from a number of local activists.
Price’s supporters included Betty Ester, co-founder of Citizens Network of Protection; Bennett Johnson, former President of the local NAACP; City Council candidates Darlene Cannon and Mary Rosinski, who is also a longtime Realtor; and Michael Vasilko, who addressed Council members at their Jan. 24 meeting about the situation.
Ms. Ester, in particular, has joined Price at almost every hearing (Price’s dog Revy also stood in). She also helped organize the multitude of files piling up in the long-running case and led the effort to recruit support.
“You have to ask yourself why they [the City] are so relentlessly going after a senior citizen, a low-income person who lives in a house that happens to be in a prestigious neighborhood. It’s like ‘We’ve got to get her out,’” Ms. Ester said.
At a Nov. 30, 2021, hearing on the case, First Ward Council member Clare Kelly, one of a group of new Council members elected in April, addressed Judge Cohen on Price’s behalf, breaking Council silence on the case.
“I’m here to advocate for Ms. Price and the City Council knows this – we met,” she told the judge. “And I agreed to help out, to find a different path that’s more accommodating, less restrictive. So I am working on that with various agencies to make that arrangement so that we don’t have to proceed and so that the city doesn’t continue to proceed in what has felt like an aggressive manner.”
City efforts
City officials asked about the case today, Jan. 28, issued a statement.
“The City of Evanston has made numerous, wholehearted attempts to connect the property owner with grants and resources to bring her property up to code and to ensure that her property is safe for her and surrounding neighbors,” the statement read.
“Unfortunately, despite the City’s best efforts, the property owner has refused this assistance, and the property has continued to decline, posing a significant health and safety hazard. The City’s dismissal of its lawsuit was a last resort that will allow the property owner to work towards a solution with her lender.”
At the end of Jan. 27 hearing, Judge Cohen, who received praise for his firm but evenhanded handling of the difficult case, gave different parties a chance to speak, including Price.
The city action “was done during a pandemic when people were supposed to get relief,” said Price, who . “And instead, they criminalized my need for help, and basically honored my neighbors’ (statements), which I have no way to understand (that kind of thinking) ethically or morally. So I think the city of Evanston should do a lot of internal thinking and speak to me, Ms. Ester, and Mr. Bennett Johnston to prevent this from happening again.”

Share this post

Post Comment