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Regional Housing Recovery Plan is on the table. Now what?

The Town of Normal already is doing some of the recommendations in the housing recovering plan.
The Town of Normal already is doing some of the recommendations in the housing recovering plan.

The McLean County Regional Planning Commission has finished its Regional Housing Recovery Plan to address shortages in housing, workforce housing, mixed-use housing, affordable housing, and housing for the housing challenged.

It has been presented to the Bloomington and Normal councils and the McLean County Board. Now what?

“It’s time for us to start kind of looking at the details and seeing what some of their recommendations look like when they're more fleshed out and we start putting some meat on the skeletons that they presented,” said Town of Normal interim Deputy City Manager Brian Day.

The town already is doing some of the recommendations in the plan. A comprehensive review of zoning regulations and how they affect siting and the type of housing prevalent in the community, for instance, began about a year ago as part of the town's strategic plan.

“We're in the middle of that process now, seeing where there are areas we can least review regulations to see if there are ways to facilitate more housing,” said Day.

Mayor Chris Koos recently mentioned a potential incentive to prompt developers to move ahead with residential projects even in the face of high interest rates, a loan buydown program.

Day said the town is looking at that and various other ways to spur construction.

“I think we're just in the beginning stages of looking to see what other communities are doing. Right now, we're seeing a lot of communities both in Illinois and around the country having to look at incentives or financial options that traditionally haven't been available,” said Day.

“It's kind of a new area for everybody. Part of that might be looking at more land use laws and how they phase in subdivisions.”

The Regional Housing Recovery Plan suggests creating an implementation committee composed of various stakeholders. Day said it’s too early for the town to have a position on who should be at the table and the process to use.

“I think that's just going to be more discussions between the stakeholders, before we start formalizing any of that,” he said.

Though the housing shortage has been apparent in McLean County for more than two years, Day said for most of the last decade the problem was a glut not a shortage.

“It was employers moving employees to other cities and we had houses that nobody could sell. That changed, probably with Rivian. And the pandemic was a huge factor, market forces fundamentally outside of the town's control, disruption of supply chains, interest rates, and inflation,” said Day.

The housing recovery plan calls for extending the housing navigator position housed at Mid-Central Community Action, and creating a paid position of a regional housing coordinator. Day did not commit to any particular version of cost sharing or position on those potential jobs.

“Again, we're gonna have to look at the details and the specifics when we see more of those,” said Day. “Certainly, we've got interest in being a regional partner.”

The plan also recommends creating overlay areas targeted for multifamily and mixed-use housing and affordable housing development that could include targeted incentives. Day said right now they are focusing on projects that have been approved, but not begun because of financing costs.

He said overlay areas would be taken up by the town down the road.

“We want to make sure we're triaging the right types of housing, the right form of housing, whether it's single-family, multi-family, affordable, or workforce housing. We just want to make sure we're getting those mixes right and kind of digging through the report to make sure we're devoting the right resources to the right areas,” said Day.

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