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Is This Block in Humboldt Park Sinking? Residents Want To Know

By Mauricio Peña | November 10, 2014 7:31am
 Shifting foundations on the 1400 Block of North Kedzie in Humboldt Park place a burden on homeowners.
Foundation Shifting in Humboldt Park
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HUMBOLDT PARK — Is a block on North Kedzie Avenue in Humboldt Park sinking?

That's what some residents are wondering after at least four of the eight properties on the block between Beach Avenue and LeMoyne Street have seen myriad problems that they suspect are caused by the soil shifting beneath their homes. 

The problems include front porches detaching from their houses, severe cracks in the exterior and interior walls and deteriorating foundations, along with less severe issues like windows or doors that won't open. Even after spending thousands on repairs, the residents say the problems have returned year after year after year.

"I'm upset, concerned and beyond frustrated," said Sarah Stavrou who lives in the 1400 block of North Kedzie Avenue.

Mauricio Pena says residents want answers, not money:

Residents say they have been unable to get a definitive answer about what's happening, and they are frustrated by what they say has been a minimal response by the city.

“We pay our mortgage, we pay our homeowner's insurance, we pay property taxes; it’s not our fault these homes were built on poor soil," said Stavrou. "If the city won’t help us, what options do we have?”

The homes, which are mostly brick, sit on the west side of Kedzie, across the street from Humboldt Park, parts of which were built in the late 1800s. The homes date to the early 1900s, although residents and local historians could not say who built the homes or what was at the location before the homes were there.

DNAinfo Chicago interviewed four of the property owners. Three other owners declined to comment or couldn't be reached, and one said he wasn't aware of similar problems.

Sarah Stavrou first wondered if there was a larger problem a few years ago, after fixing cracks that would form year after year in walls inside her house. She filed a claim with her insurance company, but it was denied because her insurance company determined the damage to the property originated below the foundation — a common exclusion on homeowners insurance, insurers said.

"The insurance company was not willing to help," Stavrou said. "They said they didn't cover foundation shifting issues."

Contractors told her that just assessing the extent of the problem would require them to excavate the soil 6 to 8 feet below the foundation, then insert metal poles to serve as stilts to stabilize the building so it wouldn't continue to move.

According to Stavrou, engineers estimated the cost would be $30,000 — and possibly even higher.

"To start the process, I would have to sign a contract stating I would cover any additional cost that surpassed the estimate. I don’t have the money to commit to something without knowing the cost," Stavrou said.

Frustrated, Stavrou reached out to her neighbors and learned her housing problem was far from unique.

Patrick Heeter — who did a major rehab on his home after moving in in 1999 — also had similar problems. They included cracks in the brick veneer covering an outside staircase leading to his front door as well as cracks on interior walls. He said the issues have worsened in the last two years.

For Heeter, estimates to refoot the foundation, remove and replace the brick veneer and reconstruct the porch run $30,000 to $80,000.

“I’m trying to keep the building, but I would have to take money from my savings, or take out another loan," Heeter said. "After spending $200,000 rehabbing it, I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

Ed Kennedy, who manages an apartment building at 1452 N. Kedzie, said he spent $20,000 to rebuild the staircase and replace the brick veneer two years ago at his building. However, the shifting is starting to undo the renovations to the building. 

He said the problem is exacerbated by trucks that use the street, saying, "The buildings shake when they come driving through here."

In an effort to mobilize the block, Stavrou and Omar Lopez — another homeowner who spent $13,000 rebuilding his porch and on tuckpointing — sought help from 26th Ward Ald. Roberto Maldonado in October 2013.

"Since it was something many of the homeowners were facing, we thought maybe there's something the city could do to look into what may be causing these problems," Lopez said.

Maldonado, the residents said, pledged to help and eventually sent out the Department of Transportation, which checked the streets, sidewalks and public way for evidence of problems.

"I did not find any cracking or settling of the public way … i.e. street pavement, curb and gutter, or sidewalk, that would indicate any failure of the substructure," CDOT worker Leonard Aluise wrote in an email to the alderman last December. 

While Maldonado said he might get the Water Department involved, a staffer later told the residents it was not a water-related issue, residents said.

To get more information, though, the staffer told them they might have to send the Buildings Department, which could be problematic for the residents.

"The alderman's office said they could have the building inspector come and check out the problem, but if the building inspector comes out and finds violations, the homeowners would be forced to fix them," Stavrou said. "A lot of the residents, myself included, saw this as a veiled threat.”

Maldonado’s chief of staff, Kathleen Oskandy, denied a threat was made, but said her office looked into the issue and couldn't do anything more.

Buildings Department spokeswoman Mimi Simon said this week that her department has not been asked to check out the homes. But she said property owners would be responsible for the maintenance and safety of their buildings.

Although the homeowners know it's up to them to make repairs, they said they brought the matter to the alderman's attention because the problem has affected more than one home. They are unsure what to do now.

"It's not an isolated incident," Lopez said. "It's multiple homes. We aren't asking the city to pay anything, we would like for them to help us find out what's causing this problem."

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