Illinois Department of Corrections Senior Parole Agent Kelly Harvey had several realizations after his year-and-a-half study on the migration of Chicago public housing recipients into Central Illinois.

He started his study for a college project because of the community talk of increased Chicago residents here and the impacts on crime and other areas.

He wanted to find out the truth and extent of impacts.

Harvey knew that with the parole population he deals with, he's seen more issues with poverty and Chicago-area residents moving here.

He also didn't know much about public housing and Section 8 at the time.

His project has shed a lot of light on all these issues for him.

There has been an after-effect caused by the Hope VI initiative — which resulted in the demolition of high-rise public housing and relocation of residents — on down state communities, such as Danville and Vermilion County.

"But it has gone largely ignored by state leaders who are primarily concerned with the positive effects of the program on the inner-city of Chicago," Harvey reports.

"The reality is, Chicago has exported much of its poverty, crime and gang problems at a time when funding for law enforcement and social services has never been higher."

Harvey said it struck him at how little attention the Urban Institute Think Tank and other organizations have paid to these issues outside of Chicago.

He found "tons" of research regarding Hope VI, but all positive about Chicago.

He also learned how complicated public housing really is, and how there isn't a lot of emphasis to help people in the system get out and back on their feet.

Harvey said public housing is no longer a leg up, like it used to be.

"Generations grow up there," he said.

"It's a complicated mess," Harvey said. "It's not a subject that has easy and simple solutions."

Harvey was surprised at the lack of knowledge about public housing throughout the community, even with officials in decision-making positions.

"There's not a lot of people truly very educated about public housing," he said.

He learned that in contrast to some people's beliefs, the numbers of Section 8 vouchers have not seen a significant increase here. The DHA has about 530 vouchers leased itself.

The make-up of the people, however, including more from the Chicago-area, has changed. They don't all come from other public housing, like Cabrini Green, but have been shut out of low-income housing.

Harvey said the DHA doesn't need to advertise with billboards in Chicago, which he also has found to be untrue.

Word of mouth brings more relatives and friends to Danville, Harvey said.

He said the DHA tends to be seen as the cause for the increased crime, poverty and other city problems.

But Green Meadows and Vermilion Gardens serve as many project-based Section 8 recipients, too, in addition to other housing complexes and the county housing authority recipients, he said.

"We're getting hit very hard," Harvey said.

Suggestions

Harvey has a list of 12 recommendations to help better provide for the safe living environment of public housing recipients.

"The goal is not to be against people using public housing, but make those involved in illegal activities most uncomfortable as possible," Harvey said.

He said gating Fair Oaks isn't the solution. It would cause other issues.

He also said his recommendations aren't a slight to the police or the housing assistance services.

DHA Executive Director Greg Hilleary said the authority continues to work with police to look for solutions to fight illegal activities taking place.

Recommendations:

-- Implementation of a Crime Free Multi-Housing program by the Danville and Vermilion County housing authorities, area project-based public housing and area landlords.

This is a state-of-the-art, crime prevention program designed to reduce crime, drugs and gangs on apartment properties. It was successfully implemented in 1992 in Mesa, Ariz.

Now the International Crime Free Multi-Housing Program has spread to nearly 2,000 cites in 44 states and elsewhere.

Training occurs first with law enforcement as to resident screening, lease agreements and eviction issues, security management monitoring, responding to criminal activity inspections and community awareness training, among other issues.

Benefits are reduced police calls for service and a more stable resident base.

-- Implementation of a Web-based, Geographic Information System mapping system to display public, project-based and Section 8 housing, in addition to registered sex offenders, those on parole and probation and known gang members.

"These tend to be high-crime areas," Harvey said.

"We have the software right now to do it," DHA board president Mike Puhr said of the city/county GIS system and the tracking technology.

Hilleary said he'd like to talk to Mayor Scott Eisenhauer more about pursuing this.

Law enforcement and housing authority officials would share information for the geospatial mapping system to include people's pictures and other information.

Under housing authority rules, parole and felony probations are prohibited from residing in public housing.

But the mapping and sharing of information can make that easier to enforce and determine if anyone is lying, Harvey said.

-- Ensure the standardization of lease agreements among the Danville and Vermilion County housing authorities, Vermilion Gardens, Green Meadows and other project-based public housing providers.

Lease agreements are the strongest avenue to evict someone when housing recipients, their family members or guests engage in criminal activity.

-- Have one consolidated barred list for all the public housing and Section 8 agencies listing those who no longer can reside at a property due to criminal activity.

Denise Ahrens, assistant DHA executive director, said an interagency agreement is in the works for this. South Lake Properties may be brought in later.

As it now stands, a person not allowed to trespass and live at one property can apply to another and be accepted. Each site now has its own list of people barred from the property.

Ahrens said the groups aren't discriminating against people, but with the consolidated barred list, then the people performing illegal activities will have nowhere else to go here.

Puhr agrees, saying "so they can't bounce around."

Harvey also supports increasing the COPS program.

-- Increase the utilization of HUD's office of inspector general to prosecute fraudulent reporting information and various other criminal activities.

-- Encourage more neighborhood associations and "block watches" to report deteriorating housing conditions and crime. Also, establish a locally-based telephone hotline for reporting fraud and abuse in rental housing.

-- Educate and inform law enforcement of the public housing rules. When law enforcement is called to altercations of those residing or guests of those residing in public or Section 8 housing, a report should be forwarded to the housing authority or project managers to ensure action is taken.

Area judges also should be more educated to the processes, Harvey says.

-- Conduct routine and unannounced inspections of vacant housing units for public and project-based housing, which could become dens for illegal activities.

-- Increase random inspections of leased housing units to verify residents.

-- Implement a picture identification card system for leaseholders and Section 8 residents.

The DHA already started taking pictures of all people residing in public housing last August when the re-signing of new leases started for a computer database accessible by DHA officials and police.

Ahrens said the picture system helps officials know everyone living in a residence, including all children.

Another system Harvey supports, but it would be more costly for additional DHA staff time, is to have all guests of residents come to the DHA office and sign in.

-- Use more video surveillance monitoring.

DHA already has surveillance cameras installed at Mer Che Manor on Oak Street.

It's looking to install more at Churchill Towers on Seminary Street possibly this summer, prior to looking at more buildings, Ahrens said.

-- Implementation by local law enforcement of a gang, or security threat group, initiative.

The study also shows the need for increased federal, state and local funding for social services such as substance abuse counseling, employment assistance, mental health services, transitional housing and educational programming.

"I care about this community, and if we work together, we can make a difference," Harvey said.

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