Ex-city manager queried on Joliet’s City Center plan
By Bob Okon email@example.com October 11, 2012 9:38PM
Updated: November 13, 2012 6:24AM
CHICAGO — Opponents of Joliet’s plan to condemn Evergreen Terrace tried to show in court Thursday that city leaders have been plotting to get rid of the low-income housing complex since 1990.
City officials have said they want to redevelop Evergreen Terrace but keep housing for low-income residents on the Broadway Street site.
But the private owners of the complex and the federal government, which subsidizes it, contend that the city wants to eliminate low-income housing and will discriminate against the mostly black residents at Evergreen Terrace.
Attorneys for the opposition on Thursday pointed to a 1990 City Center plan, which was designed to map out future development in downtown Joliet and neighboring areas, including the west bank of the Des Plaines River where Evergreen Terrace is located.
“Nowhere in this document does it discuss subsidized housing on the site of Evergreen Terrace,’ Kate Elengold, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said to former Joliet City Manager John Mezera.
Mezera was in his third day of testimony in the case and is scheduled to return Monday for more cross-examination. He was city manager for 21 years, including 1990.
Elengold pointed out that Mezera was on the steering committee that helped develop the City Center plan, which calls for “water oriented residential opportunities” in the Evergreen Terrace area.
“It doesn’t say anything about subsidized housing, does it?” Elengold asked Mezera. “It doesn’t say anything about the health and welfare of the Evergreen Terrace residents, does it?”
Mezera acknowledged that the City Center plan does not mention subsidized housing, but it does not exclude it either.
Mezera has said repeatedly during his testimony that Joliet by 2005, when it filed its condemnation lawsuit against Evergreen Terrace, had developed a long-term plan to redevelop the area into a mixed-income development — one that would retain most of the buildings and create improved housing that would continue to be subsidized.
Earlier in the trial on Thursday, Dean Polales, attorney for the private owners, accused Mezera of withholding information from the city council, when it approved the lawsuit in August 2005, that HUD had approved $3.5 million in financing improvements at Evergreen Terrace. Polales presented a letter that HUD sent Mezera a few days before the council vote.
“You didn’t tell the council members of the details of the restructuring plan at that meeting, did you?” Polales asked, pointing to the minutes of the August 2005 meeting.
“I don’t see it in the minutes,” Mezera answered. “I don’t think so.”