BLOOMINGTON - The house at 409 E. Locust St. remains vacant as officials from the Joy Care Center try to decide what they will do next in their efforts to use the house for ex-offenders.

The house's owners, a group of investors led by Francis Ihejirika, recently received a letter from the Bloomington Planning and Code Enforcement Department stating the house can no longer be used as a boarding house because it has been unoccupied for more than six months.

Some renovations to the house have been made in preparation for providing a faith-based place for ex-offenders to live and restart their lives.

Joy Care Center Board President Fred Moore said they still were considering their options as to whether they will challenge the city's action or pursue an alternative for using the house.

"We're not in a position to make a decision on this yet," Moore said. "We are still getting regular calls from people looking for a place to live once they are released from prison, so the need is still there. Whether that house is going to do that, we don't know."

Neighbors hope the Joy Care Center will discontinue their efforts to use the property as ex-offender housing, according to Judy Stearns, president of the Cultural District Neighborhood Association.

Mark Huber, director of the planning department, said the building permits on the house expired and work apparently ceased.

The house has been unoccupied for more than six months. Once the permits expired, a special-use permit that allows it to be a boarding house also expired, Huber said.

That special-use permit had been issued years before to a previous owner.

There still are options available to Joy Care to use the house, Huber said, including turning it into a single-family home where three unrelated people can live or a duplex where up to six unrelated people can live.

Previously, the Joy Care Center attempted to use the house as a group home for ex-offenders. But their efforts were stopped in March by the city's Zoning Board of Appeals, which voted against issuing a parking variance needed for the group home.

"The neighborhood feels Joy Care should respect the decision of the zoning board," Stearns said. "The board ruled not really on the parking but on the four hours of neighborhood testimony."

Stearns used the arrest of a construction worker at the house as an example of how the center failed to make good-faith effort to work with the neighbors.

The construction worker is a convicted sex-offender who served his sentence for that offense but was on parole for driving with a revoked license. He violated his parole by driving to the house for his job.


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