Residents criticize plan for Champaign subsidized housing

Residents criticize plan for Champaign subsidized housing

CHAMPAIGN — More than 100 people packed the Champaign City Council chambers Tuesday night, many of them there to criticize a plan to put subsidized housing in west Champaign near the Turnberry Ridge subdivision.

But Champaign Mayor Don Gerard prefaced public comments on the project by saying the city had no control over the development "except to make sure that the codes are enforced."

The project, which is to be built on 12 acres on Cobblefield Road west of Interstate 57, is sponsored by the Housing Authority of Champaign County.

Housing authority Executive Director Edward Bland, who attended Tuesday's city council meeting, said a public hearing on the project would be held May 15 "and we'll have additional hearings if people want them."

When asked if the project was "a done deal," as one speaker had inquired, Bland responded, "The housing authority followed all the proper procedures. The land was zoned for multifamily use in 2004. We could build more than 200 units there but this calls for 160."

Many of the nearly two dozen people who addressed the city council contended that the development would exacerbate traffic congestion in the area. But others objected to subsidized housing near upscale subdivisions.

"Had I known in 2011 when I was in Afghanistan that there was going to be an apartment building, let alone subsidized housing, I would have told my wife we're not going to live there," said George Vargas, a local attorney. "This is simple economics. I made a decision to live somewhere where property taxes are higher, where I wanted to live in a single-family subdivision."

But Betty Smith, also of Champaign, endorsed the project.

"I come from low income. I come from public aid. I've worked at the University of Illinois for 28 years," she said. "To put a stigma on Section 8 (housing) is wrong. This is not how Champaign County needs to operate."

Also Tuesday, the city council approved the final development plan for Parking Lot J at the northwest corner of Sixth and Green streets. The plan calls for two 12-story buildings, including a 108-room Mariott Town Place Suites hotel, retail space, apartment units and a parking garage.

Construction is scheduled to begin this fall and will be completed in August 2015, said Jill Guth of JSM Development.

JSM would pay the city almost $4 million for the parking lot.

"This kind of a project is transformational for our community and transformational for Campustown," said council member Tom Bruno. "Having a hotel in Campustown will bring us up to probably an amenity that is enjoyed in almost every other Big Ten community."

Mayor Don Gerard said the two developers that did not win the Lot J project are working on other Campustown developments.

"It's really a good sign that we're going to be having a lot of activity going on, creating a lot of jobs and commerce," Gerard said.

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SaintClarence27 wrote on April 12, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Are you suggesting that these numbers are even close to comparable?

P.S. Your racism record is already preserved for posterity with your mention of "Baraq Osama" in one post:

cretis16 wrote on April 12, 2013 at 7:04 pm

OK, Obama....I get it..let's all hate the rich people. Maybe all the folks in Turnberry Ridge will be allowed to concealed carry..that's their only hope. Or they can join hands and all light candles and sing together. Pitiful...maybe some of these posters can offer to purchase your Turnberry Ridge homes, if it is so wonderfull living next to public housing. Any takers?

SaintClarence27 wrote on April 12, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Like I could afford to buy a house. Otherwise I'd have no problem with it.

I don't hate rich people, I just think seeing how the other half lives is a good thing. 

Local Yocal wrote on April 13, 2013 at 7:04 am
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The process, (or lack of process,) in how land is to be governed, used, and accepted is given a rare vetting.

Taking into account the "by-the-way" council action regarding new business developments in the campus core area, there appears a future plan, (created by those who can influence land-use the most,) to establish a central core of trendy, upscale developments.

Following events and proposals for the last several years, we see plans for baseball stadiums, parking garages, hotels, condominiums, urban high-rise apartment living, research parks, another $160 million dollar capital renovation project for a sports arena, retail spaces, and  magazine-cover parks and sculptures to be congealing to the center of Champaign-Urbana, essentially along the Neil St. axis from the highways to the south farms.

Who will be the main beneficiaries of all these exciting changes?

What do the city authorities want out-of-towners to first see when they come off the highway?

The City of Champaign shot its own foot when it passed a discrimination-allowed ordinance against Section 8 voucher holders a few years back. What the ordinance did essentially is allow all landlords to deny renting to anyone paying with a Section 8 voucher for the sole reason the landlord didn't want to rent to anyone on Section 8. The reason given at the time was that landlords did not want to be burdened with cumbersome federal regulations. The City Council of Champaign bought the argument that the government shouldn't be telling landlords how to operate their business.

The unintended consequence was that instead of spreading Section 8 voucher-holders throughout the community, we're back to packing all Section 8 voucher holders into a single dysfunctional area (usually run by less than reputable landlords), and because; yes, just like the rich, there be thieves, liars, fornicators, alcohol and drug users, and angry/loud people among the poor, the neighborhoods cry, "Egad, look who's moving in."

A few Section 8 families in a particular area isn't cause for too much concern usually. It's when everyone, including the dysfunctional households, move en masse, all at once to a particular area, like what has happened in Southeast Urbana. Champaign was lucky that Southeast Urbana absorbed the Bradley Avenue residents whose housing was replaced.

Out of town developers who are only here to exploit the market quickly and cheaply as possible, don't know the monsters they could be creating. The idea of packing 160 Section 8 households onto a food and transportation desert is a quick displacement of those "kinds of people" out of the way. Lucky again, Champaign has a "go-along-to-get-himself paid" housing authority director to facilitate the plan.


SaintClarence27 wrote on April 13, 2013 at 7:04 am

They are not 160 section 8 households. It's MIXED INCOME. 

DD wrote on April 13, 2013 at 11:04 am

The Benoit group, the out-of-state company which will be managing this project, did an informational meeting for the condo located directly next door.  Benoit claims 10% of the units will be rented at market value, which leaves 90% to be subsidized on a "sliding scale."  They claim everyone will have to pay "something" to live there.  To qualifiy, you have to have a household income from 0%-60% of median income (they are using $68,000 as their median figure, so $40,800 at most for a household income to be considered to move in).   Of course, these are all just promises and projections from an organization located far away, trying to gain favor for their project.  "Mixed income" is what they decide it will be, from the pool of applicants.  It could be mostly 0%-ers.  At least they did a presentation, rather than the weasely housing authority, which snuck this through and refuses to comment on it.

EHL wrote on April 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm

The current plan for the development is to set 10% of the 160 units to be market rate available to any tenant who will pay it.  The remaining 90% of the units will be low-income and subsidized housing for tenants who earn between 0-60% of the local median income rate, and my understanding is that this will also include acceptance of Section 8 vouchers.  Calling it "mixed income" while technically true, is also a euphemism.

dls221 wrote on April 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Using an out of town developer is a big concern.  This group has created a similar mixed income development in Georgia called Arcadia at Parkway Village.  Online reviews and newspaper articles of happenings in this development are concerning and I hope the HACC is invested in the management of this property so that the Providence at Thornberry development does not have the same problems.

annabellissimo wrote on April 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I think this is the most interesting discussion I’ve read anywhere in a long time and why is that? Because it touches on so many of the issues, problems, questions, and values that are profoundly troubling our nation now. It is a discussion that needs to be happening in every local community in the U.S., but also on a national scale. Although it may be unfair to hope that the country’s “first black President” should be the one to open these matters up to national discussion – even in the form of “town hall meetings” – I admit that I did hope he would, largely because I thought he might be considered the first President (and First Lady) to have credibility, “bona fides”, in such discussions among a larger proportion of the national population. I think it is unfortunate that he has not tackled this, but it is also understandable; it is a very hot Pandora’s box.  And yet, if we don’t all talk it out and come to understanding, how will we ever get better? I use that phrase, “get better” as if recovering from illness, because I believe America is in a very sick state of being, and we are stumbling and fumbling around trying to get better. In our weakened economic state, we are all vulnerable to rapacious, greedy, exploitative forces, whether from Wall Street or real estate manipulators or street thugs.  We are in trouble in America and good citizens of all colors and income levels are being used and misused at every turn. This discussion of what is happening in Champaign County, Illinois is one that could happen in so many places. It is hard to get at what is true and what is real and what are the real and true issues. The issues are big ones: freedom of choice, poverty, crime, anti-social behavior, values, income disparity, chronic dependence, earned and unearned social support, social responsibility, race, racial attitudes, hidden agendas, responsive government, corruption, power, what communities expect of their police and the kind of support the community gives them, property rights, political and philosophical differences – all of that and more. There are also several completely mind-boggling aspects to this story and one of them is why Mr. Bland with his tainted background was hired from Gary, Indiana, a city with a notoriously bad reputation in every respect, to do the same job in this community. Were there no “un-tainted” job candidates with job histories from cities with profiles more compatible with where this one wants to go? Does this city hold Gary, Indiana as a civic model?


So, mind-boggling history and interesting discussion but so far everyone can only guess at what the “neighborhood” outcomes will be. I am reminded of Peoria, Illinois, a city not hugely different from C-U in many ways. Peoria was very segregated until, perhaps, the late 1970s. The “southside” of Peoria was where most low-income residents lived and where most of Peoria's African-American residents lived and most crime was statistically centered in that part of town. There were several old public housing projects that were notoriously in poor condition and crime-ridden. Various changes began and accelerated and many “southside” residents moved into neighborhoods that had been previously “white neigborhoods” with nice homes and very low crime and safe schools. “White flight” picked up speed. The previously good neighborhoods of the East Bluff, of West Peoria, of the near-Bradley area, and many others began to experience a rapid change in increase in crime and deterioration of housing maintenance and values. Since the 1960s, Peoria’s African-American spokespeople, like John Gwynn, had been focused on the elimination of discriminatory housing and employment practices and once achieved, there was a rapid movement of minority, many of them low income, residents out of the south end into those previously “white” neighborhoods. Not many Peorians would say the city is better now than it was “then” in terms of crime, neighborhood safety, stability and housing quality, nor in terms of relations between black and white residents. It is better in other important ways, such as that residents can live where they want to, within limitations of resources or similar factors, and can work where they want to, if jobs can be found. Anecdotally, many Peorians seem to believe that many of the former Chicago public housing residents who were “displaced” by the destruction of Chicago’s public housing went to places like Peoria and that the “bad actors” of those residential complexes brought their anti-social activities with them, thus bringing more crime and social problems to other cities like Peoria. I contend that it’s not about race; it’s about class and that, unfortunately, historical conditions have forced many African-Americans into the “lower class” in America and now a very poor economy and a history of inferior educational opportunities have combined to keep that group in the lower class, with many individual exceptions, of course. There is a whole segment of white America that is in similar conditions but without the highly complicating factor of race-discrimination.  What are the answers? What are the questions? How will any of this “get better”?  I think those matters only come out in the kinds of discussions now being held in the News Gazette around this housing issue. The comments are starting to get repetitive but many contain the kernels of truth at the heart of the matter. I wish the University, the newspaper, local residents, whomever would all get together and hold a big, long, comprehensive set of town hall meetings with the long-term goal of making it better: for EVERYBODY. First task:  define “better”.

rsp wrote on April 16, 2013 at 6:04 am

I guess nobody was paying attention when they said they were going to build something on the edge of town back in january. They just refused to say where they were going to build. But since they were just talking about "poor people" I guess some people didn't think it had any impact on their lives.

DD wrote on April 16, 2013 at 9:04 am

Where in the article you cite does it say anything about building "something on the edge of town"? 

All the article says is Edward Bland "would not identify the preferred site."  The Housing Authority has preferred to hide their true intentions for this project's location from the beginning.  Mr. Bland has been nothing but cowardly and evasive when dealing with the public and the media.  Sneaking this project through only will lower the public's opinion of the Housing Authority, making it seem like a shadowy organization accountable to no one.