Women to Women Giving Circle goers want affordable housing but obstacles loom
Getting affordable housing in the community is going to be an uphill battle. At least that was the consensus at the Women to Women Giving Circle focused on the topic Tuesday night.
But the housing is more than necessary. In 2022, Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council estimated a 4,300-unit shortage. As of a few months ago, EDC President and CEO Patrick Hoban said that the estimate has increased to around 7,000 units.
Normal Town Planner Mercy Davison, a panelist at the forum, said there had been efforts to bring affordable housing to the town for years. But she recalled only one successful project as of late, and it was South Cottage LP, restricted housing for seniors — 55 plus.
It was built in 2011, according to First Site Apartments, the leasing company in charge of the property.
Davison said this is because finding the land, and then the funding for a development project is difficult, especially in the current market.
“Construction is very, very expensive,” she told WGLT after the forum. “Buying land is very expensive. Infrastructure is very expensive. Labor is not in ready supply all the time. It's just an expensive world we're living in, it's not getting cheaper.”
Panelists said there are also external factors, such as the “Not In My Backyard” or NIMBY attitude that’s cropped up all over the country when faced with the prospect of affordable housing. In some communities, people just aren’t receptive to the concept.
“That is always a challenge, regardless of the property you're going to build,” panelist and developer Tim Ryan told WGLT.
He works for the nonprofit Laborer’s Home Development Corporation based in Springfield. The corporation does work all over the state.
Ryan’s company had previously been approved to build an affordable housing unit for seniors near Fairview Park. When they weren’t able to obtain the state tax credit, which would have given them the opportunity to fund the project, it was scrapped.
Obtaining these tax credits — whether they’re coming from state or federal dollars — is essential for getting an affordable housing development off the ground. The U.S. Office of Policy and Development calls the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit the “most important resource for creating affordable housing in the United States today.”
So why is it so hard to obtain? Ryan said part of the reason is it’s a competitive market. Everyone wants to build affordable housing, and there are a host of developers fighting to get the same tax credit dollars.
In the case of the Fairview building, LHDC didn’t score high enough for the state to prioritize their application. In fact, the market is so aggressive, Ryan said the score likely wasn’t the only factor working against them.
“There's just wasn't enough money to go around, so even if we had scored higher, we may not have been awarded,” he said.
This is where the Bloomington-Normal Community Land Trust — a community-led effort to bring affordable housing the neighborhood — hopes to step in. A Community Land Trust, or CLT, is designed to bring affordable housing without the need for building a new structure.
Mark Adams, panelist and steering committee chair the Bloomington-Normal CLT, said the point of the project is to acquire property that already exists in the community, and redesignate it as affordable housing. Once this is done, they will sell the homes, but maintain ownership of the land, allowing for some price control.
“You're able to reduce the purchase price of that home by about 20 to 40%, and for a lot of low-income homeowners who do have down payment assistance that's a huge deal,” Adams said.
Adams said they still need to acquire the money to purchase land. They’re also currently working on getting certification from the state to operate as a nonprofit, which could take months.
The project, he said, is likely going to take a year and half. He added that this is “based on best practices” and “proven timelines,” but he is confident in the potential for BNCLT success.
“It's a proven solution,” he said, referring to CLTs dating back to the Civil Rights Era and a host of successful projects in Chicagoland.
Town Planner Davison said the CLT is an intriguing solution.
“Mark’s concept involves using existing housing as well, which is important to keep in mind,” she said. “I mean, we're not going to solve this problem by just building new housing.”
On her end, she said it may be worth contacting the Illinois Housing Development Authority to “just make sure we’re still on their radar” for affordable housing opportunities.
“They’re managing a lot of tax credits across the state, and it is a competition,” she said. “We just need to maybe reach back out and make sure they have us in mind.”
Ryan said LHDC will continue its efforts to develop in Bloomington-Normal. Post-panel, he said he can tell the community members in attendance are in support of more housing opportunities that people can comfortably commit to paying for.
“Everybody's supportive,” he said. “They just want to find a way to get something built here to really help the very low-income people in our community to have a good quality place to live.”
Ryan added that to those who might fear this idea, affordable housing is healthy.
“These are men, women, children, retirees who need a place to live who wants to have a home just like everyone else does,” he said.
Tuesday night's discussion on affordable housing was an extension of the Women to Women Giving Circle forum Spring 2023 forum on housing and nutrition.
The Giving Circle describes itself as the "funding arm" of the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation, a philanthropy group that provides grants to McLean, DeWitt, Livingston and Logan counties.
They announced the group is currently seeking applicants for four $50,000 grant opportunities in 2023. The proposals should highlight "women and children who are marginalized and have faced barriers in our community."
They are also seeking donations for future grant funding opportunities.