DAVID ZALAZNIK/JOURNAL STAR Habitat for Humanity volunteer Ken Maubach, left, and Habitat construction manager Drew Schultz place a section of ceiling panel on a porch as volunteer Tom Schoen, background, awaits measurement for the next piece to cut on a Habitat for Humanity project on Northeast Monroe Street in Peoria. Hide caption
PEORIA — Following her attendance at a housing conference in Washington, D.C., Denise Moore is ready to do a little building.
Before any construction starts, she’s looking to do a little team building. Moore, who represents the 1st District on the Peoria City Council, will ask the council later this month to split the present city housing commission into two commissions, one focused on housing, the other on employment.
“We’ve got a group of 10 people already working in the community to help design the mission and vision of the two commissions,” she said.
Moore said her eyes were opened in the nation’s capital. “I learned that Peoria was not unique in this area but that Peoria hasn’t put forward the time and funding necessary to properly address affordable housing in this community,” she said.
“We’ve left it to the Peoria Housing Authority to navigate the (affordable housing) space. The city needs to become an aggressive partner with PHA,” said Moore, who’s also looking for more input from the private sector.
“In Washington, we talked to developers and toured a massive development, City Center D.C., where they used inclusionary zoning as a way to develop affordable housing,” she said.
That type of zoning requires a developer, in return for some kind of tax relief, to allocate 5 or 10 percent of their units as “affordable” within their project.
“We could look at designing something like that. We have to start somewhere,” said Moore.
Moore pointed to projects already underway in Peoria that have addressed the need for more affordable housing, citing Habitat for Humanity’s efforts in the North Valley and the East Bluff Housing Project where the Peoria Opportunities Foundation’s $9.7 million project plans to build 20 single-family homes and five duplexes in the neighborhood.
“The quality of housing is really poor for rentals on the East Bluff,” said foundation director Jane Genzel. “A quality rental property is important in stabilizing a neighborhood,” she said.
In her own informal survey constructed among East Bluff residents, Genzel said she realized the need for more rental options when she learned that respondents paid between $350 and $650 a month in rent while spending between $150 and $350 a month for utilities. “I’ve noticed many East Bluff homes without insulation and with holes in the walls and doors,” she said.
“People are just starting to talk about the need for affordable housing here because Peoria remains a very affordable housing market for middle and upper-middle home buyers. But it’s not affordable for folks with a lower income and that’s 30 percent of the population,” said Genzel.
The lack of affordable housing is not just found in Peoria. “There is no county in Illinois where a person working a full-time minimum wage job can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment,” said Bob Palmer, policy director of Chicago-based Housing Action Illinois.
Habitat for Humanity looks to fill the gap of accessible housing in this area, said Lea Anne Schmidgall, executive director for greater Peoria, noting her organization has built 11 homes in the North Valley over the past three years.
“We plan on building five more homes in the North Valley this year. We’ve got one sponsored by Caterpillar Inc. and another by Komatsu,” she said.
The two earth-moving machine firms aren’t competing with one another, said Schmidgall. “There might be some informal fun competition in the future,” she laughed.
Habitat is looking for more applicants for the houses they build in this area, said Schmidgall. “We’d like to get 40 to 60 applications a month and we’re not getting near that many,” she said.
“We have to have the families first. We don’t build a house and then look for a family,” said Schmidgall, adding that Habitat seeks to lessen the burden of paying for a home. “Some of the people we see have been spending 80 percent of their income on housing. At Habitat, we see that no one spends more than 40 percent of their income on their house,” she said.
Steve Tarter covers city and county government for the Journal Star. He can be reached at 686-3260 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter@SteveTarter and facebook.com/tartersource.