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Bloomington mayor enthused about housing symposium results

Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe
Charlie Schlenker
/
WGLT
Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe.

The mayor of Bloomington is enthusiastic about some of the ideas that came out of a recent symposium to create solutions to the housing shortage, but Mboka Mwilambwe said some possibilities still need development.

"One thing I thought was intriguing was a property tax freeze. Some people were advocating for that, although I think that will take a little bit more studying to see what the impact could be," said Mwilambwe.

Another proposal Mwilambwe said may advance to the council is creation of a loan fund for housing development projects with contributions from stakeholders throughout the community. The public-private partnership should help projects large enough to meaningfully impact the "missing middle" of workforce housing, he said.

"Any number helps, but 200-400 can give us that initial shot in the arm to relieve the pressure that we have on the housing market," said Mwilambwe.

He said the fund could include money from employers who have the greatest needs for workers.

“A lot has been mentioned about that missing middle that we don't have in the community, at least, don't have a whole lot of — townhomes, duplexes, but also maybe multifamily housing — and that kind of thing that would be a little bit more reasonable for workers,” said Mwilambwe.

One other idea Mwilambwe mentioned is interest rate buy-downs, something also endorsed in principle by Chris Koos, the mayor of Normal. Koos had suggested that program could be a state and local partnership with matching money.

He anticipated staff will prepare a resolution for council approval by the end of the month to codify the approach to future housing projects.

Deputy city manager search

There is significant interest in a job opening for deputy city manager. More than a dozen people have applied for the post.

"That is incredibly encouraging because these days it is not unusual to have applicant pools in the single digits," said Mwilambwe.

The city is moving to the interview stage to fill the vacancy created when Jeff Jurgens stepped up to become city manager.

Smoke shops

Coming before the liquor commission next month is a proposal for a smoke shop on Cottage Avenue in Bloomington. There has been some neighborhood push back to that request. The Town of Normal recently passed an ordinance requiring 1,500 feet separation between tobacco and vape shops,but Mwilambwe said he does not foresee the city following suit.

“I'm not aware that we've had issues in that area. We typically don't want to go around looking for a problem to solve. If that becomes an issue, it’s something that we can respond to,” said Mwilambwe.

Juneteenth

This year's Juneteenth celebration in Bloomington will be incrementally bigger than last year's event. The mayor last year said he wants the holiday observance of the end of slavery to become a regional event. One way to make that happen is with more prominent musical acts, though Mwilambwe said that will not happen this year.

"Some of those didn't necessarily work out because of availability. We're going to work with what we have at the moment, and we will continue to explore that for future years," said Mwilambwe.

Mwilambwe said this year's event on Saturday at Miller Park will have more vendors and food than last year. There's free admission to the zoo and miniature golf. And the mayor said he guarantees he will hit a home run in the City of Bloomington-Town of Normal softball game.

“If you are someone who enjoys comedy and laughter and want to see you know, a couple of, council members and mayor, look silly, then that's your thing,” he said.

That game will be his first time playing softball.

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