HARVEY, Ill. (CBS) — A group of volunteers is committed to cleaning up south suburban Harvey – saying they are making the city a better place to live.
The group is boarding up abandoned buildings and clearing away trash. But on Tuesday night, they told CBS 2’s Tara Molina that city officials are working against their efforts.
Members of the group said they are sick of looking at vacant homes, let alone worrying about what’s going on in them.
For that reason, they said they are going to continue to board the houses up – whether city officials approve of it or not.
The homes are vacant and dilapidated with broken windows and wide-open doors that anyone can just walk right into. They are described as “breeding grounds for criminal activity.”
A short drive through Harvey turns up many such houses, evidence of the story many say they are sick of living.
“People that stay three, four minutes away don’t even like driving through here,” Said lifelong Harvey resident and volunteer Dewayne Mack.
So the volunteers they started doing something about it.
“The city wasn’t doing enough,” said Mack, who is a licensed contractor in Harvey working with A1 Roofing and Construction.
Jason Decker started Communities United 2020.
“People on social media were reaching out for help to get these properties secured,” Decker said.
Decker’s group is now working to clean up and board up neighborhoods in the south suburbs.
A contractor by trade, Decker said he takes the lead. The group takes donations for the plywood, and volunteers do all of the work.
Decker said Communities United 2020 asked Harvey Mayor Christopher Clark for permission before starting up 10 weeks ago.
“He said he couldn’t do that, give us permission, but he also couldn’t stop us,” Decker said.
The group has worked on 79 homes since without a peep from Harvey, until they say a city worker showed up last weekend – calling their work illegal and threatening possible citations.
“They shouldn’t try to stop anything that’s bettering the neighborhood, especially if their city workers can’t take care of it,” Mack said.
Molina reached out to the Mayor’s office about what happened, and heard back from his chief of staff.
She maintained the board-ups are illegal because it’s private property – calling the work a public safety issue, a health risk, and a liability for the city.
Molina requested a statement from the city in writing, but the chief of staff did not follow up with one.
“It is 100 percent allowed by state law,” Decker said.
Decker also said the wide-open abandoned houses are really the liability – to the people who live near them.
He said his group will be back at work this coming weekend.
“Because the people of Harvey want it done,” Decker said.
Molina brought this story to CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller. He said if a property is clearly abandoned, there’s no trespass, and boarding up a home like the ones in Harvey is considered a public good, not a criminal act.