Elgin project end of traditional public housing
Traditional public housing will be a thing of the past in Elgin under a pending renovation and financing deal.
A nearly $17 million project by the Housing Authority of Elgin essentially will give ownership of affordable housing to private investors, mirroring initiatives taking place across the country, agency CEO Damon Duncan said.
The project consists of renovating 74 housing units scattered throughout Elgin, Duncan said. It also entails putting up for sale 31 housing units on Clifford Court and Owasco Avenue, whose residents will get help in securing housing of their choice, he said.
The 18-month project is anticipated to start this summer, he said. "We are working now toward the closing, which is the lion's share of the work."
When the deal is done, the Elgin housing mostly will be owned by the Chicago-based National Equity Fund, Duncan said. The housing authority will be the managing member, and will hire a tax credit property management company, he said.
The 74 housing units scheduled for a fix-up are on Norman Nelson Court, Wing Court, Wing Street, Elizabeth Street, Washington Court and Watch Court.
The housing authority already used the tax credit and rental assistance demonstration programs to construct a new building and overhaul its Central Park Tower building, both along Route 31.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, strapped for money and facing a backlog of improvements, has been promoting the programs, Duncan said. "There is a public-private commitment to maintaining affordable housing, as opposed to the federal government supporting the entire asset and operation. It is less of a liability on taxpayers."
The prospect of relocating via housing vouchers was good news for residents of Clifford Court, said Mylicia Jones, who lives there with her three children.
"The people, they're excited go," she said, adding she wants to move closer to Harper College, where she takes classes, or to St. Louis, where she has relatives. "You don't want to be here long."
About 185 people who live in the 74 units to be renovated will move out for about four months, in staggered phases, into the empty units on Clifford Court and Owasco Avenue, Duncan said. The housing authority will hire moving companies, pay for utilities disconnection and reconnection, and storage if needed, Duncan said. "That's a huge undertaking all into itself," he said.
Outdoor work will include parking lot resurfacing and adding playground equipment. Indoor work will include opening up the kitchen and living room areas, installing new countertops and cabinets as well as new heating and cooling systems.
Residents of Watch Court had different opinions about the project. "
In one way it's a good idea (to renovate), but in one way it's going to be a pain," Gloria Valles said.
Jerry Ballard disagreed. "Everything is fine. I don't know what work they need to do." Another resident, a single mother of six children, said she is nervous about moving.
Duncan acknowledged the process won't be easy, especially for those with children. The housing authority is working with Elgin Area School District U-46, he added.
The renovated units will become more mixed-income over time, Duncan said. People who live there now are eligible if they make 30 percent of the area median income; under the new program, as current residents move out over time, new residents will include those who make 60 percent of the area median income, he explained.
"You don't want to concentrate low-income housing in one area," he said. "That's a recipe for disaster, as HUD has realized."
Councilman John Steffen, who serves on the housing authority board, praised the initiative. "It's the direction that housing authorities across the country are trying to take, which is to get out of the active management of public housing. Take a step back, and administer voucher and other programs, and not actively manage properties."
Once the project is finished, the units on Clifford Court and Owasco Avenue will be put up for sale.
"That is an area that is not optimal for families. It's difficult for school buses to get in and out because of the sloping streets, and it tends to be a haven for criminal activity," Duncan said. "It has had a bad reputation for years."
Duncan pointed to Judson University and the Fox River Water Reclamation District as potential buyers. Both entities, however, said they have no such immediate plans.
Financing for the Elgin project includes about $8.8 million in tax-exempt bonds, a $3.3 million loan from the Illinois Housing Development Authority, and a $160,000 loan from the Housing Authority of Elgin, Duncan said. "We provide the best quality housing that we can," he said, "and that's what we are going to do."