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updated: 11/23/2012 6:48 PM

Lake Co. Housing Authority plans for transformation in 2013

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  • Marion Jones townhome building in North Chicago

    Marion Jones townhome building in North Chicago
    Lake County Housing Authority

Laura Siebert

Lake County Housing Authority (LCHA) has plans for transformation in 2013 that include the Marion Jones Townhomes Complex in North Chicago, Illinois. The Marion Jones complex consists of 125 units with 298 residents and has served low and moderate income families within the community of North Chicago for over 50 years.

Despite a continuous comprehensive maintenance program, the physical conditions, building systems and infrastructure have reached the end of their useful life. With dwindling federal resources, LCHA recognized the need to develop a long term strategic plan to assure that this valuable affordable housing resource will be available to meet the needs of the community of North Chicago for the next 50 years.

LCHA engaged an independent architect and engineering firm to conduct a physical needs assessment of the property which determined that the costs to modernize the property would be in excess of $12 million dollars. Further analysis determined that the most viable option was to demolish the existing buildings, replace the existing infrastructure and redevelop this area as a new mixed income community to serve the residents of North Chicago.

The Housing Authority met with residents to share the plans for the property which included relocation specific plans for all families currently residing at Marion Jones. As it is currently expected, the project will exceed twelve (12) months and during that time, residents will be granted relocation assistance. This assistance would include advisory services, housing search assistance, actual reasonable moving expense payments (if moving within 50 miles) and/or a "fixed payment of moving expenses" if the resident elects to do a "self-move," a dislocation allowance payment of $100 among other forms of related assistance. LCHA Executive Director/CEO David A. Northern Sr. and Vice-Chairman Dr. Darrell Dick along with LCHA's Redevelopment Consultant, Cindi Herrera provided a Power Point presentation about the redevelopment plans, relocation options and benefits for residents.

Based on positive resident feedback, LCHA has determined that it is in the best interest of the community to continue redevelopment plans for Marion Jones. Currently, LCHA's application is in a draft approval status and once finalized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), LCHA will provide residents with special relocation Housing Choice Vouchers that will enable them to secure affordable housing of their choosing. Relocation assistance will also be provided to all current residents of this development. It is anticipated that the relocation would occur in the summer of 2013 to minimize any disruption to the children's' school year.

Forty-two (42) year Marion Jones resident, Maere Pitts, had two items come to mind when asked her feelings on this proposed redevelopment and those were that this project brings both a sense of loss and a sense of hope with it. As a forty-two year resident as well as an acquaintance of those who had "been there since the bricks dried," Ms. Pitts stated that she won't just be losing her housing at Marion Jones but a way of life. As a senior citizen, Ms. Pitts relies heavily on convenient public transport and feels a "personal loss but also a loss of community." She explained that there are a lot of communities within the Marion Jones complex that unless you are a part of, one cannot understand. However, while feeling the loss, she also feels hope as "some can come back and [Ms. Pitts' can see how this will be] better for residents, especially as it would include the larger community and not just the property's community and the reignited interest from businesses within the community also brings hope."

LCHA issued a solicitation for a Master Developer and has appointed an evaluation committee comprised of members of the City of North Chicago, Lake County Governor, Marion Jones Residents and LCHA Board and Staff members that will finalize the selection of a private development company with whom the Authority will partner to complete the redevelopment efforts. As of present, LCHA has narrowed the candidates to three (3) potential partners and will be conducting site visits to see properties similar to what the LCHA is aiming for in this redevelopment project.

Northern stated that "this project will be a local stimulus that helps to bolster the community as well as the broader Lake County economies." The Authority will utilize $3 million dollars of private revenue raised from the refinancing of tax exempt bonds issued by the Authority in the 1980's to serve as seed money for the redevelopment project. Preliminary estimates are that these funds will leverage approximately $60 million in private market financing that will support these redevelopment efforts.

Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer David A. Northern, Sr. is very encouraged by the support of the Residents, the City and the County and stated that "through this collaboration with the community, the LCHA has a wonderful advantage in working to update and find even better ways to enhance this community and we [the LCHA] are excited to move further along in this process and cannot wait to see the end result come into fruition."

When asked about his thoughts on the project, Lake County Board Chairman David Stolman expressed how "The Marion Jones Townhomes provide much needed affordable housing to residents of Lake County. This revitalization project will provide for a more modern, upgraded neighborhood, all the while ensuring that the housing remains affordable. The whole community will benefit from this effort."

North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, Jr. echoed this sentiment stating that this is a "good project -- through the Lake County Housing Authority coming in and redeveloping this whole site in order to offer residents additional opportunities, especially if this enables retail to come into the area, would serve to benefit the broader North Chicago community and help increase the property values of the surrounding area." However, he took a very sensitive approach to the current residents of this property, explicitly emphasizing the need to "look closely at how the process is implemented and ensure that [all involved in the project] work with the residents to ensure that their relocation is handled in such a way that is sensitive to their needs."