Area housing agencies get federal funds

Area housing agencies get federal funds

DANVILLE — The Danville Housing Authority will continue its renovation of a public housing complex for senior and disabled residents with a $692,273 Capital Fund grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The authority launched the first phase of a project to convert 14 efficiency apartments at Mer Che Manor, 723 N. Oak St., into one-bedroom units with previous Capital Fund allocations and installed energy-efficient kitchen and bathroom appliances, air conditioners and lighting as part of its $5 million energy performance contract.

"This will allow us to continue the renovations that have already taken place," Executive Director Greg Hilleary said of the new funding, which should be accessible in a month or so. "We'll be able to put in new flooring, new cabinetry and a drop ceiling, with some modifications, in additional units."

The Champaign Couny Housing Authority hasn't earmarked its nearly $840,000 for specific projects yet, Executive Director Edward Bland said.

"We will use it to do modernization and improvements on our properties, which could be roof work, energy-efficiency improvements, plumbing or electrical work. We always look at the most pressing needs in all of our communities and prioritize those needs," Bland said, adding his board has worked hard "to provide decent and safe housing for all of our families."

The grants are part of the nearly $120 million in federal funding that HUD is awarding to Illinois housing authorities to make major improvements to housing units for families and senior citizens through its Capital Fund Program.

Here's what area authorities will receive: Champaign County, $839,237; Vermilion County, $235,244; Edgar County, $216,998; Ford County, $66,392; Coles County, $203,753; Piatt County, $65,457; Decatur, $1 million; and Bloomington, $728,066.

"I'm pleased with our number," Hilleary said. While it was about $6,600 less than the 2012 grant, "we were afraid this year's amount was going to be less than that."

Each year, the program provides funding to about 3,100 public housing agencies throughout the country to build, repair, renovate and modernize the public housing in their communities. The money each agency receives is based on a formula that considers the number, type, and age of the units.

The local authorities use the money to do large-scale improvements such as put on new roofs, make energy-efficient improvements or replace old plumbing and electrical systems.

"This funding is critical for housing authorities to maintain and improve public housing conditions for their residents," HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a release. "However, with a significant repair backlog, I am encouraged by new, innovative long-term solutions HUD is exploring that can be combined with this funding to not only protect and preserve this housing for the next generation but (also to) build the quality infrastructure necessary for families to thrive."

Over the past 75 years, the federal government has invested billions of dollars in development and maintaining public housing, according to the release. However, the nation continues to lose about 10,000 public housing units each year, primarily due to disrepair.

In 2011, a HUD study showed that the nation's 1.2 million public housing units were facing an estimated $25.6 billion in large-scale repairs, the release said. Unlike routine maintenance, capital needs are extensive improvements required to make the housing decent and economically sustainable.

Danville's Mer Che was built in the mid-1960s with 100 units composed of 60 efficiencies, 39 one-bedroom units and one two-bedroom unit. The authority converted a column of two adjacent efficiencies on each of the building's seven floors into one-bedroom apartments to make them more marketable and made efficiency upgrades in the process.

Now, it's looking to improve other efficiencies, which are scattered throughout the building. While they won't be converted to one-bedroom units, Hilleary said they will be refashioned in a way that distinguishes the living space from the bedroom.

"I'm hoping this will help us make a good dent in that project," he said. However, he said the authority will likely have to wait on 2014 funding to wrap up the work.

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