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City manager says Bloomington council may support financial incentives to jumpstart housing

A man in a suit speaks at a podium
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington City Manager Jeff Jurgens, left, and Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe at a new conference in April 2024.

Bloomington's city manager says the city council seems interested in offering some financial incentives to address the community’s housing shortage.

Jeff Jurgens says it appears the council will back a plan to waive some fees for developers, but the city does not want to get involved in financing any construction.

“It was clear at some of the first meetings the council was not interested in a financial program where they were the bank. Not necessarily a program where they are buying interest down or they are helping to finance projects,” Jurgens said in an interview on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.

Jurgens suggested the standardized incentive would help jumpstart home construction.

“Those fees can be impactful,” he said. “If we are doing everything we can to make this the most attractive location to build housing and do business with, I think that will move the needle.”

Jurgens said the city also will likely look to collaborate with other governmental bodies and community organizations and to prioritize rehabilitation for existing homes.

He doesn't think the city will focus on certain geographic areas, adding developers seem most interested in building downtown.

Counci members still have different opinions about the best path forward, he noted, but they are coming to agreement on setting priorities.

“I’m seeing a lot of unity amongst the council on this,” Jurgens said. “They may not agree as to the specific next steps.”

The council on Monday debated the scope of a proposed resolution that would broadly define the city’s intentions.

Tent encampment

Jurgens said the city is still working on additional shelter space at the tent encampment near downtown for the unhoused population.

Former State Rep. Dan Brady, who has announced plans to run for Bloomington mayor, has called for the city to take a series of steps to try to help the unhoused during the summer, including requesting a disaster declaration to try to open up state and federal disaster assistance, and asking the state to use the Illinois National Guard Armory as a temporary shelter during extreme heat.

“This has gone on too long to not be addressed,” Brady said in a news release. “These are some of the things I would do now as mayor as the situation requires immediate action to provide relief for these fellow human beings.”

When asked about Brady’s proposals, Jurgens replied, “We’re taking any and all ideas when it comes to the unsheltered.”

Grocery tax

The Town of Normal is expected to consider a grocery tax to replace the state tax that will expire in 2026.

Jurgens said a new tax is not on the Bloomington City Council's radar.

“[I] have not heard any [council members] ringing the bell to replace the grocery tax, but we are going to have to consider that $2.5 million to $3 million loss and how we are going to make up for that,” he said, adding the council will likely took for ways to cut the budget first.

“I think our council is first going to have us take a look and see whether or not there’s anywhere to cut within the budget and any other ways to replace that revenue,” he said.

The city's annual tax revenue grew by more than $10 million compared with the budget year that ended in April 2023, but Jurgens said higher costs more than offset that growth.

According to a budget presentation to the city council on Monday, projected expenditures grew $24 million compared with the previous budget year.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.