The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

December 8, 2012

Conceptual stage

Plans proceed to move centralized public housing to mixed-income sites

DANVILLE — Three years ago this month, the Danville Housing Authority Board of Commissioners first approved public housing plans with “future development/redevelopment” in the DHA’s long-term capital plan.

In 2010, local officials toured newer public housing complexes and mixed-income sites in Champaign and Springfield.

DHA officials also have met with three different developers to discuss long-range development options.

Since then, however, not a lot has been talked about publicly to move forward to rebuild public housing. This would get the city away from the row-style buildings at Fair Oaks where crime regularly occurs.

Specific plans aren’t yet in place and funding also is an issue.

City and housing authority officials say meetings still are occurring and progress is being made for the creation of a not-for-profit to seek federal funding for future housing development projects.

“We’re still in the conceptual stage,” said DHA executive director Greg Hilleary. “We know there is a need.”

The DHA’s public housing and Section 8 subsidized housing voucher programs both have waiting lists with more than 600 people on them.

Some different areas of the city, such as around Mer Che Manor off Oak Street and near Fairchild and Gilbert streets, are being looked at for single-family homes and apartments, duplexes and townhouses for mixed-income housing.

Hilleary admits that Danville is far behind Springfield, Champaign and other housing authorities that have moved forward with mixed-income public housing developments.

John Dreher, neighborhood development manager with the city, is excited that the city and housing authority are finally working together, not separate, on this issue.

“This is the first time we have the right team of players …,” Dreher also adds about a non-profit Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) being formed with some social service agencies to get access to federal funding.

Hilleary said included in the DHA’s five-year capital plan are housing authority wide redevelopment, relocation costs and other development costs.

Demolition costs for a portion of Fair Oaks are estimated at $150,000 in years 2016 and 2017.

“It’s more of a place holder,” Hilleary said, adding that the costs don’t really mean anything right now.

If a project isn’t listed in the DHA’s capital plan, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development won’t allow it.

The DHA also would first need permission from HUD to demolish any public housing, such as some buildings at Fair Oaks. This means a loss of revenue to HUD.

DHA applied in the past for a Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant, but due to its lack of experience, it didn’t score well in the evaluation.

There is a list of requirements that must be met to demolish public housing.

The last public housing units razed were 130 units at Carver Park during the 1990s due to flooding. That project took about six years to start, officials said.

Hilleary said no specific buildings have been identified to be demolished and reduce the density of housing at Fair Oaks, other than buildings would be looked at for demo toward the east side of the complex.

The housing is all brick on the west side, not part brick and vinyl.

The DHA has to re-house any displaced residents, such as eight families with one Fair Oaks building, with another housing option or Section 8 voucher.

Just removing one building won’t really reduce the high density there.

“High density was shown by the 1970s not to be the best model,” Hilleary said.

HUD started offering Hope VI funding in the 1990s to rebuild housing.

“Honestly we’re 20 years behind the curve here as compared with other housing authorities,” Hilleary said.

“It takes about 10 years ... Springfield started when money was available,” he added.

Right now, Hilleary doesn’t see a lot of funding available any more.

In addition to density issues, Fair Oaks is far away from services. New redevelopment areas being looked at are close to grocery stores, jobs and public transportation, etc.

The mid-town section, such as around Mer Che Manor from Williams to Fairchild and Gilbert to Vermilion streets, could be a possible area for new public housing.

“We like it because we have a presence already there,” Hilleary said. New residents could use Mer Che’s community room and gym.

City officials are analyzing infrastructure, vacant lots and other buildings and properties for sale.

“We’ve got to work together as a partner in all this,” Hilleary said. “It’s just not going to happen overnight.”

There also is a lack of quality housing for larger bedroom sizes, Hilleary added about housing with more than two to three bedrooms.

The land will drive the project, he added about single-family homes, apartment complexes, etc.

Dreher said no more high rises would be planned.

“I think we’re moving forward,” Hilleary said. “Whatever we do, we have to make it successful. We gotta do it right.”

If successful, then more new housing projects could follow.

Officials also are taking their time and being careful to make this a successful project. Dreher said the concept is similar to Renaissance Danville, which helped renovate some houses in the west downtown area, but this would involve federal funding.

“It is going to take time,” Hilleary said of the process, adding that he’s not sure what money is out there for this either.

Renovations continue

Renovations have continued at DHA properties despite long-term redevelopment talks. Construction began in March for a $5 million energy performance contract.

“It’s to make what we currently have better,” Hilleary said.

There also are merging of units to make one-bedrooms out of studios at Mer Che Manor and Madison Court.

Most of the improvements at Fair Oaks, however, are “removable items,” Hilleary adds.

The improvements include new furnaces, toilets, ceiling fans, lighting and other items.

Hilleary said a housing study shows the area needs affordable family housing. There is a lot of substandard housing that doesn’t meet HUD’s quality standards for rental properties, he said.

Eisenhauer agrees the city is moving forward to a mixed-income residential development.

“We have not identified any exact locations,” Eisenhauer said.

Areas city officials have looked at for possible new development include East Main and East Fairchild streets and the former Provena United Samaritans Medical Center, Sager campus.

City Community Development Block Grant and demolition money can help.

Eisenhauer said the key to a successful project is strict management.

“We recognize we can not do all of this in one year,” Eisenhauer said.

The next style of housing should be mixed housing, according to other successful projects, instead of socially-isolated populations.

“The Fair Oaks housing complex is repressed and an outdated version of how low income housing should be,” Dreher said. “I also believe it’s a fatally damaged brand label. It’s gained a reputation, whether right or wrong, and (some people) won’t consider it any longer as a housing location.”

Fair Oaks is no longer surrounded by job opportunities.

“It’s like an island in no where now,” Dreher said.

Dreher said the housing would involve some market rate owner-occupied housing. This housing could be for persons with disabilities or seniors.

“This is a way to bring construction money and jobs into Danville,” Dreher said. “Vacant lots don’t benefit anybody.”

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