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Bloomington city manager expects quick council action on housing incentives

A man in a suit speaks at a podium
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington City Manager Jeff Jurgens, left, expects the city council to favor initiatives that will require housing construction that has a certain percentage of the development set aside for people under a certain income per year. At right is Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe.

Jeff Jurgens, Bloomington's new city manager, expects to move expeditiously to address the Twin City housing shortage.

In a WGLT Sound Ideas interview, Jurgens said there will be a council meeting early next month to talk about barriers to creating new housing and sharing ideas of what the city can do.

He hopes to have a resolution before the council at the last meeting in June to give the staff direction.

"With the caveat that our funds are not unlimited, I think they're going to be aggressive. I think there will be consensus to really look at and be aggressive to see how we can spur some development," said Jurgens, who was named city manager in mid-April.

Jurgens said he does not have a dollar range in mind yet for the cost of incentives.

He expects the council to favor initiatives that will require housing construction that has a certain percentage of the development set aside for people living under a certain income per year.

"Honestly, I think that's where I'm going to see our council go. We really need to focus on workforce housing, that housing that's in the 30% of your income range. Developers, they're not able to build that type of housing. It's not making economic sense for them. So, where is the gap there, and is that a gap that our council is willing to help fill in some situations?" said Jurgens.

Right now, Jurgens thinks developers don't believe that kind of housing makes economic sense for them to build.

"We've talked about potentially larger incentives for TIF projects," he said. "We even had some interesting ideas at the meeting last week about waiving property taxes for individual homeowners. There are a lot of different ideas, and we need to narrow them down and see which of them will be the most effective."

Other communities have served as loan guarantors. And Normal Mayor Chris Koos has talked about a joint local/state program that would buy down interest rates for housing.

“We’ve talked about…do we get more bang for our buck if we jointly do a program like that. There are any number of possibilities there,” said Jurgens.

Jurgens said he thinks the Bloomington council is on board to create an intergovernmental agreement as recommended in the housing recovery plan recently put out by the McLean County Regional Planning Commission. Jurgens acknowledged that deserves discussion as do other stimulus tools.

The Tri-County River Valley Development Authority [TRVDA], which McLean County joined last year, has programs to arrange financing that is potentially a couple of interest rate points below open market loans. TRVDA requires a certain percentage of the units in any qualifying development be set aside for occupants who have income at 50% of the community median or below.

In Bloomington-Normal, that’s about $40,000.

“We need housing at all levels,” said Jurgens. “We’re not seeing people that are graduating from ISU or from [Illinois] Wesleyan or from Heartland [Community College] who are going to be able to afford to stay in the community.”

There also is a need for housing for people who make lower wages than the range targeted by workforce housing.

“The more housing we can bring to the community, the more we will start to see a release of [housing with] higher markups and hopefully that will help everyone at every level,” said Jurgens.

Infill of vacant areas could fit into the mix for housing incentives, too. A council retreat a month ago, Jurgens said, set a priority to focus on infill, adding staff is identifying infill opportunities — and there are quite a few.

“We’ve also talked about how we can revitalize our neighborhoods. So, we’re not just talking about a vacant piece of land, but perhaps some areas of town we can get some additional housing going there,” he said.

Jurgens said he has certain areas in mind for revitalization, but is not ready to share them publicly.

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