CHAMPAIGN — With the number of vacant houses across the nation on the upswing, Illinois is expanding a program that gives buyers of vacant houses up to $10,000 toward their downpayment and closing costs.
The year-old Building Blocks program is being expanded to 10 more, mostly suburban cities, in the state. The program now includes Champaign, although several other central Illinois cities, like Danville and Decatur, are also struggling with vacant housing stock and have higher proportions of empty homes.
As part of the "Year of Homeownership in Illinois," Gov. Pat Quinn last week announced the expansion of the program. Under the program, low- to moderate-income home buyers may qualify for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, currently 4 percent, and $10,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance.
The cities of Champaign, Belleville, Blue Island, Cicero, Crest Hill, Joliet, Lockport, Lynwood, Melrose Park and Peoria now join the existing communities of Berwyn, Chicago Heights, Maywood, Park Forest and South Holland in the Illinois Building Blocks program, administered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, there were 15 million vacant housing units in the nation, an increase of 43.8 percent since 2000 when the number of vacant housing units totaled 10.4 million. Those 15 million units in 2010 represented 11.4 percent of the total housing units in the nation.
And locally, according to the 2010 Census, 2,227, or 6.5 percent, of Champaign's 34,434 total housing units were vacant. Of the more than 2,000 vacancies, 1,255 for were for rent and 385 were for sale only, while another 309 were listed as "all other vacants."
In Danville, the total number of vacant housing units, 1,876, was less than in Champaign, according to the Census, but it's a larger proportion of the total housing stock, 12.7 percent. And of those vacancies, 999 were for rent and 264 were for sale only, while 877 were listed as "all other vacants."
The goal of the Building Blocks program is to encourage the reuse of vacant single-family properties and help working families take advantage of the market's currently low housing prices, according to IHDA.
Danville and Champaign housing officials said last week they were not yet aware of the program.
Rebecca Boykin, spokeswoman with IHDA, said a number of factors were considered in choosing what additional cities in Illinois would be included in the Building Blocks program. She said population was a factor, giving more weight to larger cities, as well as previous funding through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which made federal funds available for the rehabilitation of vacant housing units to help stabilize communities in the wake of foreclosures and abandonments.
Champaign received about $2 million in neighborhood stabilization funds, according to Boykin, which the city has used to rehab dilapidated properties.
Boykin said the Building Blocks program will build off of the neighborhood program by making the downpayment assistance available to those buying rehabbed properties in Champaign. But Boykin said it's not limited to vacant properties touched by the NSP program. Any low- or moderate-income buyer can take advantage of the Building Blocks downpayment assistance to buy vacant housing in Champaign as long as they meet the income requirements and intend to make the vacant housing their primary residence.
"With this new program, we are leveraging that previous investment to help the community return properties to the tax rolls. The program will not only benefit potential homeowners and working families, but also help the communities take these vacant properties and return them to use. Home sales have a ripple economic effect," Boykin said.
She said for a household of one or two people, the maximum annual household income must be $72,100 or less. If anyone is interested in taking advantage of the program, she said a list of participating lenders offering the downpayment and closing cost assistance in each community can be found at ihda.org.
Total housing units: 34,434
Occupied housing units: 32,207
Vacant housing units: 2,227 or 6.5 percent
Total housing units: 14,719
Occupied housing units: 12,843
Vacant housing units: 1,876 or 12.7 percent
Total housing units: 19,090
Occupied housing units: 16,961
Vacant housing units: 2,129 or 11.2 percent
Total housing units: 36,134
Occupied housing units: 32,344
Vacant housing units: 3,790 or 10.5 percent
Source: U.S. Census 2010