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updated: 3/27/2013 1:18 PM

Lake County Housing Authority Moves Ahead in North Chicago Community Transformation

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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) is moving forward in its plans for a complete revisioning of the site at the Marion Jones Townhomes Complex in North Chicago, Illinois.

The 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 its 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 fifty (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 will continue to meet with residents on a regular basis so that they are fully aware of the timeframe of the project and the specific requirements as related to them. 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.

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. LCHA is working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to ensure that our residents are provided 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 still anticipated that the relocation would occur in Summer 2013 as to minimize any disruption to the children's school year.

As forty-two year resident, Maere Pitts, expressed how "this project brings with it both a sense of loss and a sense of hope." Having "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. However, while feeling some loss, she also feels a great sense of hope for the future of the development as "some residents will come back and it will be much better for them, especially as plans include the larger community and not just the property's community. Also with this redevelopment, there will be a reinvigorated interest from businesses within the community, which also brings hope."

As Lake County Housing Authority newly appointed Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, Jeneen Smith-Underwood, commented "we are excited as we anticipate retailers contacting us as we invite them to be a part of the transformation of this community. If we are able to add space for retail and draw both local and national businesses to this area, our residents will have enhanced access to great job and skill training right where they live." Smith-Underwood went on to express how she "looks forward to serving the Lake County Housing Authority staff, our clients and the wider community in this new capacity as Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer."

Cindi Herrera, Consultant on the project stated that as "Federal funding for the Public Housing Program has continued to decrease in recent years, it is extremely difficult to fund the operating costs of Marion Jones. Shortfalls in operating revenue have resulted in a backlog of major capital needs that are no longer funded by HUD. As a result, the housing units at Marion Jones have become functionally obsolete and no longer provide the quality of housing that the residents of Lake County deserve. The recent sequestration has further reduced funding. Through redevelopment, the Housing Authority can access private market financing that will enable the rebuilding of a community that will provide high quality housing in a safe and secure environment for families of all economic levels."