What’s the issue?

President Sharon Hahs and the Board of Trustees at NEIU are trying to intimidate and bully long-time residents, property and business owners on Bryn Mawr between Kimball and Bernard Avenues by using eminent domain condemnation of their homes and livelihood.

The eminent domain scheme includes a lucrative financial arrangement with American Campus Communities, Inc., a Wall Street real estate developer backed by Bank of America and RBC Capital Markets.  Their plan is to seize the private property and build a 500-bed, 280,000 sq. ft. dormitory, apartment and retail complex at the intersection of Bryn Mawr and Kimball Avenues, west to Bernard Avenue to cover two city blocks with two new five-story buildings that will tower over surrounding homes and businesses.

President Hahs and the Board of Trustees of NEIU appear to have spent years developing their condemnation and private real estate developer deal WITHOUT opening any meaningful dialog with the impacted property owners or surrounding community.  In fact, most community residents only became aware of NEIU’s plans through the awareness raising efforts of the impacted property owners, NOT NEIU or communications from any elected officials, some of whom were consulted or actively involved in the planning process.

Community residents now realize what is at stake for them as property owners while the 3400 block of Bryn Mawr owners face significant legal expenses to defend their properties.  The first court date for all condemned property owners is September 30, 2014.  NEIU seems to have a bottomless war chest for legal expenses paid to NEIU’s outside legal counsel, Ancel Glink Diamond Bush DiCianni & Krafthefer.

A David vs. Goliath scenario is playing out as NEIU, their Wall Street Developer, their heavyweight lawyers, their Mega-Bank financiers, their political connections—all conspire to perpetrate an abuse of power on the small business owners on Bryn Mawr—primarily consisting of women, minorities and senior citizens.  Only an engaged and involved community-led backlash can stop this nefarious scheme.

The Sharon Hahs-led NEIU “Decade of Dreams” Nightmare includes the following consequences:

  • Eminent domain condemnation of private properties owned by long-time community residents and business owners.
  • Public land seizure for the benefit of private real estate developers. Private interests will benefit from retail and residential leases for at least 20+ years.
  • Displacement of existing senior citizen, small, minority, family, veteran and women-owned businesses.
  • Dramatic increase in neighborhood density, congestion & drastic change in neighborhood character.
  • At least two years of construction activity, dirt and noise to build two massive buildings that will tower over surrounding homes and overwhelm the intersection of Kimball and Bryn Mawr avenues.
  • NEIU’s publicly available maps of the proposed development do not show any additional off-street parking for the anticipated 500+ residents and retail stores included in the development.
  • Destruction of an economically sound section of Bryn Mawr Avenue two blocks off campus, thereby creating a potential path for future University “eminent domain” expansion to connect the seized properties with the main campus.
  • Potential reduced property values for homes adjacent to NEIU, between the main NEIU campus and the condemnation zone due to the uncertainty of if or when those properties might be seized by NEIU in a potential next phase of eminent domain condemnation.
  • Potentially increased property taxes for surrounding homes as NEIU expands its land-holdings that do not generate property taxes due to its non-profit/government organization status.  The current property owners pay nearly $100,000 per year in real estate taxes that will be lost under the current development scheme.  Will surrounding homeowners have to make up for that lost revenue?  Looks like a sweet deal for the private real estate development corporation—no property taxes!  We should all be so lucky.

NEIU owns 67 acres of land on its main campus.  Much of the land is undeveloped or under-developed.  Vast open space, surface parking lots, over-sized athletic fields beyond what NEIU needs—all serve to reveal that this land grab scheme is about money, not student housing—which could be built on the current land holdings of NEIU without disrupting the neighborhood.

American Campus Communities (ACC), has been contracted through NEIU’s procurement process. Attempts to review ACC’s submitted financial proposal and development plan by members of the community through the Freedom of Information Act were rebuffed on numerous occasions by NEIU General Counsel Melissa Reardon Henry.  Finally, in late August 2014, AFTER the eminent domain condemnation lawsuits were filed against the property owners, NEIU released the procurement and contracting documents.  This was a deliberate effort to hide NEIU’s plans from the surrounding community until it was too late to open a meaningful dialog.

The community is not fooled by NEIU’s “student housing” pretense or it’s claims of “economic revitalization.”  This is an off-campus scheme with corporate real estate developers, Wall Street bankers and local politicians—all built on land seized from middle class community residents.  The scheme smells of an abuse of power and possible corruption no matter how one looks at it.