In 2016, the Southeast Urbana Neighborhood Association and its steering committee met with leadership from the Lierman and Historic East Urbana neighborhoods to address gun violence.
Seven years later, neighborhood leaders say some progress has been achieved.
The collective put together a list of common shared goals it hoped would lessen the frequency of gun violence. The goals included asking apartment managers to install security cameras, improve lighting and work more closely with the Urbana Police Department.
Kathy Wallig, steering committee member, said the city of Urbana started working more diligently with landlords.
“The Urbana Police Department started increasing patrols and working with the landlords on safety issues,” Wallig said. “Most of [the managers] put in cameras. We encourage the city to push that, but there was never an ordinance requiring that.”
Some of the properties in the neighborhood include Steer Place, Gillespie Properties and Neves Group Property Management.
The neighborhood is bordered by Colorado Avenue, Philo Road, Mumford Drive and Cottage Grove Avenue. Within those borders, as of November 16, the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission said the population is 755.
Wallig said that the general socio-economic level of those who reside there live at or below the poverty line. She said one reason for this is the amount of low-income housing in the area.
Wallig cited the area near Vawter Street and Silver Street as a problem area. According to a safety-solutions report for the area, a 110-page report published in 2015 and accessible on Urbana’s website, that section became known as “murder row”.
The solutions report highlighted many ways to ensure safety in the Vawter and Silver area. The resource includes seven different subcategories to ensure safety. It was put together by the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois.
“In that time, when things were really bad, the Urbana Police Department stepped up foot patrols in the area,” Wallig said. “I’ve lived in [my] house 19 years, I am two blocks away from where this happens and I can hear the gunshots. I can’t see anything. I can hear them.”
But she said things have improved in that part of town.
“It doesn’t happen very often. It really doesn’t, now,” she said.
Domestic violence a growing concern
Wallig said she now has another concern: domestic violence.
“For the most part the last two years, the major crime [in Southeast Urbana] has been domestic violence,” she said. “One of the things I saw in the 2000 block of Vawter a couple weeks ago — that just really distressed me as a neighborhood person, there was an arrest for failure to comply.”
While gun violence may be on the decline in the area, domestic violence arrests have been high in Urbana in the last two years. Public data available through Urbana’s website shows 534 domestic violence-related arrests in 2021 and 335 in 2022.
Although cameras were one of the emphasized needs from the neighborhood’s shared goals, Wallig said not every building manager or landlord has complied with that goal. But she said they have put up better fencing around their properties.
“There will always be problems in that part of town,” Wallig said. “You have people that live very close together, you have crummy landlords, you have crummy building managers.”
She said that some landlords don’t check their properties often.
“They don’t have to drive by these places every day or every night. They have no idea what’s going on as long as they get their checks every month,” she said. “Unless they’re willing to make changes and implement safety for their tenants… there are always going to be problems there.”
The list of common goals from 2016 states: “Show support for each other. If someone from one Urbana neighborhood addresses a problem at a city council meeting, we should all attend and support.”
“It’s just not the people involved that live in the apartment building, people around them have to care,” Wallig said.