Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Rockford City Council rejects Fairgrounds housing plan, federal grant 

By: Kevin Haas, Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORD — City Council members on Tuesday rejected a public housing plan after saying it didn’t do enough to break up the concentration of poverty on Rockford’s west side.

Aldermen voted 8-2 against chasing a $28 million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant meant to help transform the Ellis Heights neighborhood. The grant included money for redevelopment work within the neighborhood, job training, early education, parent engagement and mentoring, a walking path along Kent Creek, parole reentry programs, a teen center and other improvements. But the biggest sticking point for aldermen was the $7 million that would be dedicated to replacement of the Fairground Valley public housing complex on the city’s west side.

The plan called for the demolition of Fairgrounds and the development of 270 housing units on three sites in the Ellis Heights area. Aldermen felt that it didn’t go far enough to scatter the concentration of poverty. Ninth Ward Ald. Teena Newburg said public housing should be scattered throughout all 14 wards in the city. Fifth Ward Ald. Venita Hervey said the proposal kept poor people stacked together in one area.

“They can very, very quickly become subject to predators who peddle drugs, who peddle prostitution, who prey on children and who create crime and chaos. That’s what I don’t want to see,” Hervey said.

Rockford Housing Authority Executive Director Ron Clewer said the grant money would have helped deconcentrate poverty and housing, as well as bring jobs and neighborhood improvement.

“We agreed about the strategies for jobs, the strategies for people, the strategies for education, the strategies for neighborhood improvement, but the sticking point was public housing — in which we were removing public housing and creating a sustainable form of housing that works throughout our nation,” Clewer said.

Clewer said it was short-sighted to take away the opportunity to bring $28 million to Rockford because of a disagreement over the plans for Fairgrounds, especially with local revenue resources so few and far between.

“We are, at present, stuck with what we have and I don’t think that’s fair to the people that live there and I don’t think it’s fair to the people in this community.”

Mayor Larry Morrissey said he shared the concerns of aldermen about the density of the Fairgrounds replacement plan and would not have approved the development itself. However, he was in favor of moving a grant application forward because he didn’t want to miss out on the chance for federal funding to help in the redevelopment of the neighborhood.

“We may not move the Choice application forward, but we’re going to have to come back to this and deal with ‘what do we do given our options,’ ” Morrissey said.

Clewer said the Fairgrounds replacement plan was not contingent on receiving the grant, but it provided extra money needed to fill the funding gap. He said the replacement of Fairgrounds will have to go forward in several phases.

Read the full article here at The Rockford Register Star: http://www.rrstar.com/article/20150120/NEWS/150129900/0/SEARCH