Arlington Heights commits potential slots revenue to affordable housing
Although legislation allowing slots at Arlington Park remains mired in the General Assembly, Arlington Heights already is planning how it will spend some of the revenue gambling expansion could produce.
The village board's committee of the whole this week approved a draft ordinance that would create a Housing Trust Fund, which will work with developers and nonprofits to provide money and incentives for more affordable housing in Arlington Heights.
The fund's main revenue source would be gambling money.
The Affordable Housing Trust Fund Task Force, made up of community members and representatives from the housing commission, has been meeting for more than a year, but member Siobhan White said the need for more affordable housing in Arlington Heights is a problem that dates back several decades.
With the plan presented to village trustees Monday, the trust fund would receive 10 percent of funds brought in during the first fiscal year of increased gambling in the village and 1 percent of the revenue each year thereafter.
A gambling expansion bill passed the Illinois Senate in May but stalled in the House. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he won't consider another gambling bill until the state's pension crisis is solved.
"We believe gambling money will come and that we can use the money to make a difference. Now is the time to make that commitment," White said.
White said the task force sees a correlation between increased gambling and the need for more affordable housing. More gambling would create more service jobs at Arlington Park, she said, and those workers would need somewhere to live.
Arlington Heights Finance Director Tom Kuehne said he thought it was strange that the board would approve using funding that isn't yet available but noted that future village boards could vote to change it.
Village officials have said revenue from gambling should be used for infrastructure needs or paying toward the village's pension and insurance reserves.
Kuehne referenced an old estimate that the village could bring in $3 million a year in gambling revenue, meaning that in the first year the Housing Trust Fund would get $300,000, and for years after that it would receive $30,000.
The fund also is expected to receive revenue through grants, donations and village fees.
Village President Tom Hayes said he also felt uneasy at first about committing funds that don't yet exist, but he's more comfortable voting for the plan after Monday night's discussion.
White said she hopes the fund will one day grow to $500,000.
"This will create an atmosphere in the village where developers and nonprofits work together. We all have skin in this game," she said. "The need is out there and we believe this is the way to address it."
Trustee Joe Farwell said, "I think this sends a good message and it's just the right thing to do. Sometimes we have to work outside of the box a little bit."
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