As Vermilion County Board members decide how to spend the county’s approximately $14.7 million in COVID-19 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, the Central Illinois Land Bank Authority is requesting $500,000 for a homeowner-occupied rehab program.

The county board’s finance and personnel committee heard from land bank executive director Mike Davis Monday night.

Davis made a same request to Champaign County officials in August, with Davis saying he received positive feedback.

“My real goal here is to create a rehab track record, build a pipeline three to four times the funding I’m requesting...,” Davis said.

Then they can bring in more state grant funds down the road.

The Central Illinois Land Bank Authority’s Homeowner Rehab Program would provide funds to income-eligible owner-occupants to assist with repair, rehabilitation and reconstruction of their homes. The goal is to help low-to-moderate income Vermilion County homeowners afford necessary exterior repairs they might otherwise not be able to afford.

The repairs are often essential to improving health, safety, livability and value of the home and neighborhood.

This program, funded by the county’s ARPA funds, will help CILBA and its project partners build a track record to successfully acquire annual state grant funding to cover the work. In order to successfully apply for and receive the funding, CILBA needs to build a well vetted and practiced process for home rehabs, Davis said.

“They’re basically leaving a bunch of money on the table to do rehabs,” he said of communities not taking advantage of state funding which is sitting out there that Vermilion County communities haven’t gotten.

The program can help low-to-moderate income families in non-entitlement Community Development Block Grant-funded communities repair their homes, preserve housing stock, and build capacity for the program’s longevity.

Davis said for example, a senior couple on a fixed income may not have money to fix their roof or porch. If those and other issues aren’t addressed, down the road, the house could become a demolition candidate.

“I don’t just want to be the demolition guy,” Davis said, adding that he wants to make sure communities are investing in the existing housing stock.

For eligible homeowners, the land bank would assist in exterior repairs. This includes roofs, leaders, gutters, exterior siding, porches and steps. Interior repairs are not allowed under this program.

Exterior work will immediately change the look and value of the property and its block, Davis said.

To be eligible for the Home Rehab Program, the owner must own and live in the property that will be renovated and their household income must be below 80 percent of the county’s income limits.

The land bank would work with a qualified partner in Vermilion County to do income verification of applicants.

When possible, to streamline the process of finding applicants and to deepen the impact of home repairs, the land bank plans to partner with the local weatherization program, churches and other organizations, to provide needed repairs that will increase the efficacy of weatherization efforts.

“Once you lose a house to demolition, you lose the tax base,” he added of houses that reach that state.

By intervening with necessary repairs, the land bank can play a role in stopping a cycle of deterioration and demolition that is all too familiar in Vermilion County.

Outside of CILBA, there are no organizations serving low-to-moderate-income, owner-occupied households with rehab programs like this in small communities and rural areas. Davis says this is a significant missed opportunity and an area in which the land bank can provide significant benefit to the county and households that need help.

“I’m excited, if we can build out a track record and have some good early wins,” Davis said, about also bringing in the state grant money.

In other land bank happenings, Owens Excavating has been finishing up 12 demolitions throughout county; and Davis is starting to sell vacant land to abutting neighbors to have these properties back on tax rolls.

In other county board finance and personnel committee business, a committee to discuss personnel salaries is being formed.

The Vermilion County Board’s meeting which would have taken place Tuesday night has been rescheduled for Nov. 16.

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