Miss Carly’s in violation of multiple building codes, fined by city

The charity says it’s working to fix the issues, but COVID-19 needs and demands have slowed them down.
Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 4:07 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 8, 2022 at 9:59 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Carly Rice and Jacob Rush say what started as feeding one homeless person out of their home grew into Miss Carly’s, a charity larger than they ever imagined.

“When we saw that we could grow, we realized it was our duty to grow the services we were providing,” says Rice.

It ballooned so quickly, they say it spun out of control in a number of ways.

“We’ve just simply outgrown the space that we’re in,” she adds. “We had to work backwards and create programs from the receipts we had and tie them back to an individual.”

Miss Carly’s obtained a special use permit in 2019, which allowed them to operate out of their home. All SUPs have a set of agreed-upon rules. However, city leaders say the organization has never complied with most of the regulations.

“I don’t think it’s overly complicated to address the issues,” explains City of Rockford Administrator Todd Cagnoni. “It just takes time to hire a design professional.”

Nicholas Meyer, the city’s legal director agrees, “We know that there are structural problems with the property. I mean, you’re not really meeting any of the conditions of the special use permit. Like anybody else, we give the property owner quite a bit of time to go through that, understanding it can be time consuming and expensive.”

The city leaders add, even without the special use permit to run the charity, the building has multiple safety issues.

Cagnoni explains, ”The rafters that have been compromised and cut, the open electric boxes, the open sewer, the not properly vented sewer. Those are all issues that need to be addressed whether it’s people that reside there, a business or a combination thereof.”

Rush and Rice says their failure to comply after three years comes down to two main issues: COVID-19, when they say outreach numbers skyrocketed, and communication.

”A lot of it comes back to COVID, especially the problems we’re having,” Rice says. “Somewhere along the line during COVID we lost good communication with the city.”

“With everyone,” Rush interjects.

“With everybody actually because we were completely overrun with people who needed help,” Rice continues. “And while we’re working on those resolutions, the fact of the matter is they’re obstacles. And we are dealing with crisis situations, sometimes life and death situations on a daily basis. So, a lot of the time we have to decide, are we gonna do this compliance thing or are we gonna get this woman out of human trafficking? And that decision is always easy for me, but there’s consequences to making that decision.”

City leaders say they’ve given Miss Carly’s long enough to make the changes; the city fined the organization $27,000 in April and set a code hearing.

“The reason we’ve escalated to a code hearing is because it has been taking longer than expected,” says Cagnoni. “Certainly, there was a time when COVID interrupted a lot of business activities, but we’re at the point where these issues need to be addressed.”

Miss Carly’s says it’s making progress, slowly but surely, to get the building up to code. This is happening while transitioning into a much larger space next door, which they bought late last year.

“We’ve got ourselves a little buried but we’re digging ourselves out of that hole,” confesses Rice.

Rush says there’s hope.

“I do finally feel like, for the first time that it’s actually accomplishable. I’m really proud of the results that we’re seeing,” he explains.

Meanwhile the city leaders say, while the mission is valuable to the community, it still needs to operate under their regulations, for the safety of everyone.

“There’s value to the community, but like anything else, it needs to follow the rules that have been set out and that they’ve agreed to,” says Meyer.