PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — In the early morning, crews cut gas lines and bring in excavators to take down homes after a fire ruins the building. This is known as an emergency demolition.
“Basically, what we look at is the structural integrity of the house,” said Ross Black, Community Development Director for the City of Peoria.
Black makes the call to tear down a home if it is deemed unsafe or unsalvageable.
Joe Dulin, Assistant Community Development Director, said a single demolition can cost between $7,000 and $15,000.
“A house that’s had a fire, that might collapse, is an absolute public safety thing that we have to address and it’s something our department takes very serious and our city council and city manager takes very serious,” Dulin said.
He explained over the past couple of years and with the pandemic, the city has been hit with budget cuts. This means there is only $150,000 set aside for emergency demolitions.
Dulin said that is roughly enough for 15 homes. So far this year, the city has torn down about seven.
“There is a large cost to the City of Peoria. So we go out of our way to try to obtain federal and state sources,” Dulin said. “Funding can’t specifically just be on the local level, we need the help from our state legislators and federal legislatures.”
The heart of the issue, according to Dulin, is not house fires, but property neglect.
“The problem that occurs is emergency demolitions are definitely something that we take down, but there are a lot of properties in the city of Peoria that are just blighted, abandoned, have been left sitting vacant for years. And those are the properties we really struggle to have funding for to take down,” Dulin said.
Dulin said the city used to take down between 50 and 60 structures a year, but the real need is actually between 150 and 200 structures.
“You know, at the end of the day, our goal with any structure in the City of Peoria is to save it; we don’t want to demolish it. Once you demolish it, it’s gone forever, Dulin said. “So we’d really like private property owners to step in and fix the property. But unfortunately a lot of times that’s not the case. These properties have sat vacant for too long that the economics don’t work for someone to rehab it and put it back on the tax roll.”
Dulin said preventative measures are needed to reduce the amount of emergency demolitions.
“Public safety isn’t just about police and fire,” Dulin said. “We’re at the front end of preventing these things from happening in the first place.”
Dulin said he wants to raise awareness about the value a demolition can bring to the community.
“Getting rid of those abandoned properties increases public safety, reduces crime, prevents fewer arson fires,” Dulin said.
The Community Development Department has received $1.3 million from outside sources over the last five years for demolitions.
About two months ago, the Illinois Housing Development Authority granted the city $200,000, which they will use to take down an additional 25 houses in Peoria’s 61605 zip code.