DANVILLE — In the last few years, local economic development officials at Vermilion Advantage have seen a trend among professionals moving to the area and preferring temporary housing options rather than buying.
Vermilion Advantage has been trying to help local employers meet that housing demand in its mission to recruit and retain a qualified workforce, and Mayor Scott Eisenhauer has identified this as one of a few issues to be addressed through his new housing initiative.
Eisenhauer announced last month during his initial 2013 budget presentation that public development director John Heckler will be reassigned to focus solely on housing issues in the community, including public housing, neighborhood revitalization and development of professional housing options.
Vicki Haugen, chief executive officer and president of Vermilion Advantage, said she's seen this trend toward temporary housing for the last three years, but it's really escalated in the last year. Since early November, she said, the office has worked with 20 different professionals coming to the area who prefer temporary housing, but not necessarily apartments.
"It seems to be a trend that when folks take jobs, they want to lease for a variety of reasons," said Haugen, adding that it's single people, couples and families.
She said most of the time, professionals moving here for a job have a house to get rid of elsewhere and with the uncertainty in the real estate market, they don't want to get tied into a property here, even though Danville has very affordable housing. Or, she said, the professionals want to get a feel for the community before buying, and some Danville companies that have locations elsewhere have management training grounds here, so there's consistent turnover with managers staying two to three years at a time. The international companies in Danville bring in professionals from overseas for short-term assignments here, she said, and professionals who come from metro areas have seen more extreme housing bubbles and have no desire to own a house.
Haugen said her office has become a repository for employers trying to identify temporary housing for these types of workers, and it's more difficult to meet that demand, because Danville does not have a lot of apartment complexes. However, Haugen said, some professionals with families don't want apartment-style living and prefer to lease higher-end houses. Haugen said she's seeing houses in neighborhoods that are mostly owner-occupied being leased for $850 to $1,800 a month, and her office has someone on staff who's regularly assisting employers with searches for such properties.
Haugen said in cities with a history of education or government jobs, such as Champaign-Urbana and Springfield, there's already development that caters to more temporary, higher-end housing preferences, but in Danville's history, that's not been the norm. She said she would like to see the city keep this housing niche in mind as it looks at developing new housing or redeveloping existing housing.
"We want to make sure our businesses are getting the top recruits they want, and when they land here, they are living somewhere in Vermilion County," she said.
Eisenhauer said that niche will be part of his housing initiative.
He said when he talks to individuals and groups in the community, housing is a recurring theme "whether it's my long, ongoing battle with public housing and the way it should be provided in the community and at what level, or whether it's professional housing."
Eisenhauer has long lobbied the Danville Housing Authority to reduce the number of vouchers it issues for rental properties in the city and to demolish existing public housing complexes and replace them with mixed-income housing. Eisenhauer also wants to take a look at the number of large single-family structures in the city that have been transformed into multi-unit rental properties, because of their long-term negative effects on neighborhoods.
"Those are all issues that need proper analysis and significant planning to turn around," he said.
Eisenhauer said the city needs to look at whether it's using, in the best manner possible, the $800,000 a year it receives in Community Development Block Grant dollars, some of which goes toward housing needs.
"The city can't do this alone, there's no question about that," said Eisenhauer, adding that the city needs to step forward, invite the pertinent players in the community to the table and drive the discussion on these housing issues.
In regard to public housing, he said the way it's provided in the city must change.
"And we recognize the housing authority itself cannot make this happen, so with the city stepping forward and taking a partnership position we can help drive the demolition of our current public housing stock in favor of a far more successful model of mixed-income housing as accomplished by other communities throughout the region," he said.
Eisenhauer said Heckler will also be analyzing existing housing stock in the city as there is a need for more demolitions and will continue working on neighborhood revitalization and working with neighborhood associations, strengthening and developing them.
Heckler said he looks forward to the challenge of working on housing issues in the city of Danville with the mayor, city staff, Danville Housing Authority officials and people in the community.
"It will be another step in forward in neighborhood revitalization for our city," he said.
10th Danville Neighborhood Association Workshop
The city of Danville is hosting its annual neighborhood association workshop 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church, 100 N. Franklin St., Danville.
Speakers will be state Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, who will give a legislative update; Public Safety Director Larry Thomason, who will discuss safety and security; and Vermilion County Supervisor of Assessments Matt Long, who will talk about property taxes. There will also be information presented about funding and maintaining a neighborhood association group.
The workshop is open to neighborhood association members, homeowner associations and people who want to know more about neighborhood associations. A continental breakfast and lunch are both provided. Sign up by Wednesday by calling 431-2321.