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Realtors ask cities to stimulate home ownership with pandemic relief money

Home on the market
Carleigh Gray

The Mid-Illinois Realtors Association is urging Bloomington and Normal municipal governments to use pandemic relief money to encourage home ownership.

Association President Jessica Devore said cities have a variety of tools available.

"Down payment assistance in the form of grants, forgivable loans, construction of new homes, fixing up vacant blighted properties; those are the ways that they can really make sure that we're really adding to the inventory," said Devore.

Illinois needs an estimated 270,000 more homes to meet demand, she said. Statewide, Devore said there is less than two months of housing inventory available, and Illinois trails all five other Midwestern states for new housing permits this year. She said there are just 58 active homes in available inventory in Bloomington-Normal, though this is a traditionally slow period for home sales and many sellers choose to wait for spring before listing a property.

She called such aid economic development to let people achieve the American dream.

"In 2020, the real estate industry accounted for $143.5 billion or 16.5% of the Illinois gross state product. This far exceeds any other sector of our state’s economy. The National Association of Realtors calculated the average home sale in Illinois generates almost $70,000 in local economic impact. Whether it’s new furniture, hardware to hang family photos or tipping the pizza delivery guy on move-in day, home sales put real revenue into our local small businesses," said Devore.

Devore said a variety of existing programs, including federal home loan guarantees and the Illinois Housing Development Authority, may run out of money each year and American Rescue Plan Act funds could boost the chances for people to achieve the American Dream of home ownership.

"That grant money is a pool and when that pool is drained, then it's gone. One of their programs is already gone. This is February, and that grant money in one of those areas has already been used up. Cities can replenish those programs and keep that trend going where we can continue to get pre approved buyers in the homes," said Devore.

Devore said she is also excited to see the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council do a housing study to better identify opportunities.

"I love the fact that it's not just a decision to give to this particular program, but really vetting all the different options, and making sure those funds go to where they need to be. For me personally, because I'm out and about in the community all the time and talk to so many people, the blighted and vacant home conversation is a wonderful thing to have, you know, because I mean, it just, it just builds communities and raises values for existing homeowners," said Devore.

Bloomington and Normal have already allocated some of the American Rescue Plan funds, but more will come. Devore said the Realtors association does not want to tell cities and towns exactly where to put the money because needs may vary depending on location.

"Each governmental official is going to appropriate in different ways and see which groups are going to be able to serve the needs in which areas," said Devore.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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