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Bloomington council hears plan to navigate process for receiving housing assistance

A majority of the City Council advocated for Plan 2 for a new ward map at its meeting Monday night. The council can vote to implement a new ward map as soon as the July 25 regular session.

The United Way McLean County Housing Coalition is proposing a three-year trial for a project to help people facing homelessness to navigate the maze of red tape required to receive housing assistance.

The plan was presented during Monday night's committee of the whole meeting of the Bloomington City Council. The council also heard a presentation on redrawing ward maps, based on the 2022 Census.

The coalition, comprised of a number of churches, businesses, non-profits and government organizations, proposes that one of its constituents create a position for a dedicated liaison to seamlessly track and transition people seeking housing assistance through each step of the process.

Erin Duncan, who works with Prairie State Legal Services on post-COVID eviction moratorium cases, said, “There’s really not somebody at any of our agencies who can provide that extra step of helping people put out applications, apply for funding for three different agencies that might have rental assistance funds but have somewhat complex applications you’ve gotta go through, or applying for a subsidy for housing, or applying for five different apartments because
you might get denied for four of them.”

Matt Burgess, CEO of Home Sweet Home Ministries, said that his shelter and the one operated by the Salvation Army are as busy as they’ve ever been.

“As far as people presenting in need of shelter, the number of people residing in our shelter, and people that we’re trying to support through our rapid rehousing program as well, we really do see this crisis at this point in time and are fully strapped trying to keep up with the demand that we see,” Burgess said.

The PATH 2021 point-in-time count found that there were 188 people experiencing homelessness in McLean County.

Over the three-year span of the proposed program, the coalition estimates costs of $225,000 in salary, benefits and administration for the liaison position and $175,000 in start-up funds for emergency housing assistance. The Housing Coalition also is seeking funding from the Town of Normal.

Bloomington council members were generally in favor of the project, but they see it as more of a short-term remedy for a long-term problem.

“Nobody here will disagree that we have an issue with housing,” said Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe, “yet that issue isn’t going to be solved right away. It’s going to take a little bit of time to build stuff, so in the meantime, I think we do need to do something, but we need to figure out what the right thing is.”

Bloomington ward redistricting

On the ward issue, five redrawn ward maps were presented to the council — four drawn by city staff and one by a resident.

Given Bloomington’s 2020 Census population of 78,680, an ideal ward would contain 8,742 people, and law requires that each ward deviate no more than 10% from that number. Ward 7 in northwest Bloomington has only 7,711 residents, and Ward 8 in southeast Bloomington has 10,973 residents. These are both outside of the deviation, so the maps must be redrawn.

The two significant changes constant across the staff’s recommended maps are the use of Veterans Parkway as a boundary between wards and the unification of downtown under Ward 6. Currently, Wards 5 and 8 are bisected by Veterans, and downtown is split between Wards 4 and 6.

City Clerk Leslie Yocum said while the primary goal is to make the wards as compact and equal as possible, the planning team paid careful attention to demographic data to make sure that minority voters were not disadvantaged by the redrawn maps.

“You’re basically trying to make sure that, yes, there is a majority, but that the minority still has an opportunity to have power and make an impact in the voting area,” Yocum said.

A majority of the council advocated for Plan 2, the plan recommended by staff. The council can vote to implement a new ward map as soon as the July 25 regular session.

Philip Walker is a correspondent for WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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