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Low-income project worries neighbors

January 4, 2019

MOMENCE — Momence has canceled a meeting on a development that neighbors fear would bring low-income housing.

The city is expected to reschedule the meeting. It was canceled because the city failed to publish a timely notice in the newspaper.

Built in the last couple decades, the neighborhood in question is just east of Berkot’s Super Foods. Most of the homes are single-family, but a cul-de-sac consists of duplexes.

On Wednesday, more than 40 residents in the neighborhood reportedly met to discuss their issues with the proposed development.

One of the residents, Yvonne Nirchi, said everyone at the meeting was against the development. She said they were concerned it involved low-income housing.

“We don’t know who will be coming in and out of there and who will be living there,” Nirchi said in an interview. “How can they guarantee who will be in the development? That’s how we are looking at it.”

According to city records, the development will consist of 23 duplexes and a community building. The property is owned by Momence businessman Jeff Van Drunen, but will be developed by Springfield, Mo.-based Four Corners Development.

Adam Horton, Four Corners’ chief operating officer, said Van Drunen plans to sell the land to his firm.

The development’s residents would have incomes of about $20,000 to about $35,000, with most of them on the higher end, Horton said. The household median income in Momence is about $60,000.

Horton said he understood concerns with low-income developments, saying most people associate them with federal Section 8 housing.

“(The neighbors) have some negative connotations and rightfully so,” Horton said. “When you hear low-income, you think people don’t have jobs. The people in our development will have jobs and income to support their rent, unless they are on pensions. People won’t be coming in here doing nothing. That’s the misconception that gets out there. That’s hard to overcome.”

‘INFORMAL’ TOWN HALL

Another concern Horton said he has heard is that development would increase traffic in the neighborhood. But he said seniors travel less and drive during low-traffic times.

“Those 55 and up plan their day around traffic. My mom wants to go to Walmart at 10 a.m. because she wants to avoid traffic,” Horton said.

The city sent letters informing a few of the closest residents to the project about the meeting. But they were given less than two weeks’ notice during the holiday season.

In an interview last week, Momence Mayor Chuck Steele said he thought that was enough time for residents to prepare. He said the city needed the project approved this month because the developer had a Jan. 15 deadline to submit information to the federal government for the 55-and-older housing.

Horton, though, said the government gives an extra month for developers to get zoning approvals. Four Corners is seeking federal tax credits for the project.

Horton said he wanted to hold an “informal” town hall with neighbors before the next zoning board meeting.

“This will give a chance for residents to ask questions,” Horton said. “We don’t want to build something that no one wants.”

‘VERY COMPETITIVE’

Four Corners, Horton said, has a good shot at getting federal approval for the tax credits. The company will end up spending $25,000 on the application.

“We think Momence will be very competitive,” Horton said.

The federal government is expected to award the credits in May. Construction could start in the fall.

As it is, Horton said, Momence lacks a lot of good housing options for seniors. Because of that, they end up moving to Kankakee, Bradley or Bourbonnais, he said.

If Four Corners gets the tax credits, it owns them for 30 years, Horton said.

“It’s a long-term commitment,” he said.

Four Corners has done projects in Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia and Colorado. This would be the first in Illinois.

According to the state Department of Human Rights, economic status is not a protected basis under the U.S. Fair Housing Act or the Illinois Human Rights Act, so there is no protected right to build a low-income building.

“However, rejecting a low-income development could still be discriminatory if it would have a disparate impact upon people based upon a protected basis, such as race or disability,” Teagan Shull, a spokesman for the department, said in an email.

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