The city of East St. Louis gave Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton $25,000 in taxpayer money five years ago to rehab a rundown boarding house he owns that was worth $11,000.
Since then, the building at 1232 Cleveland Ave. has increased in market value to $12,100 and the annual property taxes have increased by only $22.
The matching grant was given under the city’s Tax Increment Financing program, which is designed to provide funding for qualified projects as a way to increase the value of real estate in the city and use the increased tax revenue to attract development.
But after $50,000 was slated to rehab the interior of the house — with $25,000 coming from Hamilton himself — the tax bill on the property is $344, up from $322 in 2011, according to the St. Clair County assessor’s office.
The occupancy permit states only eight adults are supposed to live there, but the boarding house is home to 24 people, according to city voter registration records. As many as 37 people have been registered to vote from the address in the past, according to news stories going back to 2004.
Hamilton could not be reached for comment and did not respond to written questions about the TIF grant or how many people live in the Cleveland Avenue house.
A subpoena was served Friday in connection with a federal investigation into township finances, sources said. The subpoena was issued soon after the BND reported Hamilton spent $84,970 on a township credit card during an 18-month period. The charges included $11,989 in gas, $17,019 at the Collinsville Home Depot, $34 car washes and trips to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Hamilton said he used the card for personal use and reimbursed the township but did not provide proof of repayment, and denied any wrongdoing.
A question of whether Hamilton, 62, actually lived at the house temporarily held up the grant, city records show, but former TIF Director Angela Perry and former City Manager Deletra Hudson eventually approved it. Neither could be reached for comment.
Tina Phillips, project coordinator for the city’s TIF Department, inspected the house in June 2011 and concluded that Hamilton did not live there. Because grant regulations required the owner of a property to live on the premises, Phillips recommended that the grant be denied.
“My findings show that this property is being used as some type of boarding home,” Phillips wrote to Perry, her supervisor. “The qualifications for the program state that the applicant must own the home and live in it. Mr. Hamilton does not meet the qualifications.”
But Perry overruled Phillips after Hamilton produced his driver’s license, a copy of the city occupancy permit and a piece of mail addressed to 1232 Cleveland Ave., according to city records.
The BND reported that Hamilton owns and was elected out of the Cleveland Avenue address, but he also owns a home at 2610 N. 89th St. in Caseyville. His wife, Belynda, is listed on the Caseyville occupancy permit as a “renter.” Besides being East St. Louis Township supervisor, Hamilton also is a member of the St. Clair County Board.
The boarding house also serves as the corporate offices of Hamilton’s construction company, Hamilton Contractors, and another company, Padron Construction, owned and operated by his friend, Earnest Walker.
Walker, 52, manages the boarding house and lives there as well, Hamilton said. Padron, which is no longer registered with the Illinois Secretary of State, received $2,300 a month from the township for mowing grass and janitorial work in 2014-15, according to township records. Walker could not be reached for comment.
When the renovation project was cleared for construction, Hamilton hired Padron to do the work, records show. He paid Padron (which he spelled Padrone) a total of $25,000 in three checks. The city’s file did not contain a record of how the other $25,000 was spent. On Oct. 28, 2011, a city inspector approved the project as completed. It called for new drywall, replacement of kitchen appliances, new windows, a new front door, a new central air conditioning system and replacement of plumbing fixtures. The exterior wasn’t touched.
A photograph of the property’s exterior taken in 2011 by an inspector from the East St. Louis Tax Increment Financing Department is nearly identical to a News-Democrat photo taken last month.
Two by fours support a sagging porch roof. The house needs paint and the front porch is unfinished and still consists of cinder blocks topped with weathered planks. On the building’s sides and in the rear, large sections of siding are missing and some of the windows are covered with plywood.
Hamilton described the house as a sheltered care facility on the township’s website, a housing designation that usually requires a state license. Hamilton said in an earlier interview the property is not licensed by the city or state. He told reporters he accepts the Social Security checks of the elderly men who reside in the house in return for room and board.
State laws regulating shelter care facilities prohibit residents from being forced to mingle on the same premises with commercial concerns, such as the two construction companies, or with outside residents, said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
According to the Illinois Tax Increment Association, TIF financing is primarily supposed to help local governments attract private development and new businesses. “New development and businesses mean more jobs, more customers and, in turn, more private investment for areas most in need.”