1139 Highland Ave., Oak Park | Lacey Sikora

The 1100 block of Highland Avenue in Oak Park has a long-standing problem. A 1960’s-era home on the block was abandoned mid-flip. A developer took off the top half of the house, and the parkway in front of the house was destroyed for rehab work that was never completed.

Vanessa Paszek, who lives on the block, said that shortly after a developer purchased the home in 2020, he demolished a large portion of the home and put fencing around the house. Then, she said, “We started to see stop work notices plastered on the house, and the work on the house stopped.”

She described a hole in the parkway in front of the house, “Originally, it was covered with cardboard. Then plywood. It disintegrated over the years. It wasn’t safe. A child could have fallen down in the hole.” After neighbors complained to the village about the dangers it posed, village workers put out a caution sign and eventually repaired the hole this fall.

Audrey McClenton, who lives next door to the home, said: “There’s been no roof on the house for at least one-and-a-half years. Racoons are coming in and out. It’s like a nightmare. I can’t sell my house- who’s going to buy it next to this?”

McClenton and other neighbors did some research into the home and discovered that the home is owned by a local developer who owns several Oak Park homes, some in similar states of disrepair.

The 1139 Highland house when it sold in 2020. | REDFIN.COM

It is owned by Foster Chambers, an independent contractor and real estate agent, who operates 52nd Ave LLC and Phoenix Realty LLC. Public records show that the 1,000-square-foot house was built in 1961. It sold in July 2020 for $185,000. Days later, it was relisted at $599,000. Public records reflect another sale in October 2020 for $185,000, this time to Chambers.

According to public records, Chambers, doing business as 52nd Ave LLC, received two federal PPP loans during the pandemic, one for $975,000 and one for $179,600. He also received a personal PPP loan for $20,208. The records show that the latter has been paid back either by Chambers or through forgiveness. It is not clear how any of the money was used.

Chambers could not be reached for comment.

Rendering of the 1139 Highland house as listed on Zillow. | Zillow.com

His 52nd Ave also owns 841 N. Lombard in Oak Park. Purchased for $150,000 in March of 2020, the house is also mid-construction and was in foreclosure proceedings in 2022. The house, with a proposed finished rehabilitation, is currently listed for sale for $999,000.

Cook County records show that several other area homes owned by Chambers or 52nd Ave LLC are in foreclosure or have entered the tax sale process. The 1139 Highland property entered the foreclosure process in April 2021, and McClenton said that through her work as a realtor, she is familiar with the foreclosure process but is unsure why the process has been so drawn out for this home. She has begun attending proceedings involving the house and with other neighbors has begun to contact the village about the state of the house.

In September 2022, the village cited 52nd Ave LLC for violations of the property maintenance code and took legal action against the developer.

This fall, McClenton said that the village began to take steps to address the hazards, including repairing the parkway and boarding up the doors to the house, McClenton is unhappy with the lack of attention to the house. She said she wonders who is responsible for the state of the house, and said: “They need to tear it down.”

Resources available for help

The Chambers properties are not anomalies. Other owners have also left houses fall into disrepair. While McClenton, Paszek and their neighbors have found the process in addressing the issues challenging, the village said there are resources for residents who have concerns about homes that may not safe.

Dan Yopchick, chief communications officer for the village, said that even in cases of foreclosure, the property owner is still responsible for maintaining the home. If the bank holding the mortgage owns the home, Yopchick said, the bank is responsible for upkeep.

If neighbors are concerned about a property, Yopchick wrote in an email, “The neighbors can report any property maintenance complaint to the village through the village portal (https://villageview.oak-park.us/CityViewPortal) or an e-mail can be sent to propertyissues@oak-park.us.  A Property Maintenance Inspector will investigate.”

Once notified of an issue, Yopchick said that the village will assign a property maintenance inspector to investigate the complaint. He added, “If there is a violation to the village Property Maintenance Code, the property owner will receive a violation notice letter explaining the nature of the complaint and what needs to be corrected and by what deadline.” 

When a developer stops work on a house, Yopchick said that the village continues to monitor the progress of construction projects through the inspection process. He said, “If progress is stopped over a period of time, the owner is notified that the permit is considered abandoned and needs to be renewed. If the permit is not renewed, the location is turned over to the Property Maintenance Inspector for inspection and follow-up.”

Although the neighbors have seen some positive steps, McClenton said she feels that the process has taken a toll on the neighborhood and left them with more questions than answers. 

“There’s so many different rumors,” she said. “We just want it to be back to normal.”

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