Housing Action Illinois is hitting the road to talk about the need for quality affordable housing across our state! This July and August, our staff and board are going to visit with nearly 25 organizations from around the state during our 30th Anniversary Caravan.

Through the caravan, we hope to better understand what is happening in communities throughout Illinois when it comes to housing. We’re looking forward to hearing about the challenges and successes of our member organizations, sharing updates on our current and future initiatives, and identifying ways that Housing Action Illinois can meet needs and connect groups who can learn from or collaborate with each other. By working together, we can achieve more.

Let’s continue to champion affordable housing together!

Would you like Housing Action Illinois to visit your organization in the future? Email: kristin@housingactionil.org

Updates From the Road

 

Wednesday, August 2

The caravan continues!

For this stop, we collaborated with the Illinois Valley Center for Independent Living, whose mission is to enlighten persons with disabilities and their families about their rights; to empower persons with disabilities to assume maximum responsibility to realize their potentials; and to enrich the lives of everyone living in Bureau, LaSalle, Marshall, Putnam, and Stark counties by working toward full inclusion of each individual into their respective community. Sarah Revell, IVCIL’s Community Reintegration Specialist, organized a meeting with Tri-County Opportunities Council, the area’s Community Action Agency, Continuum of Care member, and a fellow Housing Action affiliate. Vanessa Hoffeditz, Tri-County’s Community Services Coordinator, joined Housing Action’s Executive Director Sharon Legenza, Illinois State Rep. Jerry Long (District 74), and Senator Sue Rezin’s Legislative Aide O.J Stoutner in discussing a recent increase in those seeking housing assistance and local barriers to housing services.

Sarah and Vanessa brought their personal experience as local housing practitioners to the table. Both expressed concern regarding the rising cost of living, the rising cost of rent, and a growing sense of housing instability in the area. Sarah told us about the growing number of people living with disabilities that are forced to live in nursing homes due to the area’s lack of affordable housing that is ADA accessible. Vanessa expressed concern for the increase in people she has seen living outside of HUD’s definition of homelessness. In addition, Vanessa shared the news that Tri-County Opportunities Council launched a Permanent Supportive Housing program this past May to help provide permanent homes and life skills for area homeless people who struggle with issues such as mental illness or substance abuse.

Towards the end of the meeting, we discussed regional networking strategies and other ways agencies working in the area can keep in touch about their accomplishments and challenges. We’d like to thank Sarah Revell of IVCIL and Tri-County Opportunities Council’s Vanessa Hoffeditz for allowing us to join their meeting with Rep. Jerry Long and Senator Sue Rezin’s Legislative Aide O.J. Stoutner. It was inspiring to see practitioners from two local organizations engage each other and their legislators while building awareness about the need for more accessible affordable housing in their service area. You two are true champions of affordable housing! We’ll be seeing you again soon.

Next stop: Dove, Inc. Dove is located in Decatur, IL and is a coalition of religious organizations, volunteers, and advocates that seek to coordinate efforts to address unmet human needs and social injustices in Macon County. We were thrilled to meet with Darsonya Switzer, the Program Director of Dove’s Homeward Bound program. Homeward Bound is the centralized intake location for the Macon County Continuum of Care and provides supportive housing, case management and supportive services and necessary referrals to homeless persons living in the area. We’d like to thank Dove, Inc. and Darsonya Switzer for sharing their plans and strategies for the future!

Tuesday, August 1

President Bush signs the American Disabilities Act (July 26, 1990)

After our Board meeting in Bloomington, we headed over to LIFE CIL, which focuses on advancing the equality and integration of people with disabilities in DeWitt, Ford, Livingston, and McLean Counties. Our Executive Director, Sharon Legenza, spoke with LIFE CIL’s Advocacy & Advancement Director, Rickielee Benecke, who is an active member of Housing Action’s Advocacy Committee.

Along with other CILs (Centers for Independent Living), LIFE recently celebrated the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that protects people with disabilities and makes sure that they have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA was a huge win, but as LIFE CIL notes, “the passing of a civil rights law in Washington does not give true freedom and equality and integration without a long struggle.” Learn more about the disability rights movement on LIFE CIL’s website.

We didn’t have to drive far to meet with another of our affiliates, Mid Central Community Access, Inc. MCCA educates, equips, and empowers the people of McClean and Livingston counties to achieve healthy relationships, finances, homes, and neighborhoods. Check out MCCA’s website for more information about the programs and services they offer. Also, be sure to read about the great work AmeriCorps VISTA member AnaPatricia Marquez has done with MCCA to become a green resource for the community. Thank you, MCCA and AnaPatricia! The collaborative relationships you’ve developed with a variety of local governmental bodies, private businesses, educational institutions and other human services are making a positive impact on your community!

Friday, July 28

“I would say that housing and transportation are the two biggest problems facing people with disabilities in Illinois,” Wendy told us during the beginning of our visit with IMPACT CIL. Wendy Settles works in community reintegration at the Center for Independent Living; she was laid off during the state budget impasse, which hit IMPACT very hard, but was able to return to her job 10 months later after a budget passed.

“We don’t have a shortage of people in need of reintegration,” Wendy continued. “And we have a great program to support them in every need they have once they’re living independently. But we have nowhere to put them.”

That’s because there just are not enough affordable, accessible homes. IMPACT CIL is in Alton, but the story is the same throughout our state. And it’s important to remember that we are also talking about people who have become disabled as they have aged. “People are trapped in nursing homes because they have nowhere to go, and it costs the state even more for them to be there,” Cathy Contarino, IMPACT’s Executive Director, explained.

So what happens?

Well, many people with disabilities end up living somewhere that isn’t accessible, including Wendy herself. “I am far less independent than I could be if my apartment was truly accessible,” she said, “but the alternative is to be homeless.” And because of her salary from IMPACT, she isn’t eligible for certain services, which is a vicious cycle that many people with disabilities find themselves in. “It’s forced poverty,” Wendy explained. “There are no incentives to work. We’re forced to live in poverty because otherwise we’re cut off from services, even when our income is small.

At the end of our meeting, we talked about how people with disabilities should be able to live in single family homes and condos, not just apartment complexes and group homes. “I want the same options you have,” Wendy said.

After visiting with Cathy and Wendy, we headed over to Justine PETERSEN, which gives people opportunities to create new futures for themselves and their families by helping them become and stay homeowners, start and run successful businesses, access education, begin and manage personal savings programs. We were happy to find out that the place we stopped for coffee before the meeting was actually one of the businesses they support through their micro-enterprise lending and training.

We met with Jim Schebek, Justine PETERSEN’s Housing Manager, and talked about how the organization’s housing counselors help families find and keep good homes. In the last twenty years, Justine PETERSEN has assisted over 4,000 families (most of whom are first generation home buyers) purchase homes in the St. Louis area!

Thursday, July 27

We started off our packed day with a visit to Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc., whose lawyers and other staff help provide free civil legal services to low-income and senior residents in 65 counties (in other words, the lower half of our entire state) in central and southern Illinois. We talked about helping clients who are dealing with foreclosure, eviction, discrimination, and a whole slew of other issues related to finding (and keeping!) a good, safe home.

Land of Lincoln has five regional offices, three satellite offices, and a centralized telephone intake, advice and referral center called the Legal Advice & Referral Center (LARC), which you can reach at (877) 342-7891. They also have a special Legal Help for Homeowners hotline for homeowners in danger of losing their home, which you can reach at (855) 601-9474.

Next, we had a working lunch at LINC, Inc., whose mission is to empower persons with disabilities to live independently and to promote accessibility and inclusion in all areas of life. They’re a Center for Independent Living (CIL) and are doing a great job of advocating for disability rights and working with Housing Action and other CILs to speak up about the need for homes that are both accessible and affordable. A CIL is a community-based, cross-disability nonprofit that believes all people with disabilities have the right to control the direction of their lives and participate fully and equally in their communities.

“It’s so much more expensive to modify a home to make it accessible after it’s built,” staff kept telling us. “We need to build homes that are accessible to begin with.”

We also talked about the difficulty of aging in place when there aren’t contractors who are willing to come in to make small modifications to a home because the project isn’t expensive enough to be worth their time (or who charge far too much for a simple modification). This problem will only worsen as the Baby Boomer generation ages and we have more seniors who need support in living independent lives.

Scott Tankersley, our Communications VISTA, with David and Stephanie from Madison County Community Development

After LINC, we visited Madison County Community Development, which receives and administers block grants and other funds to facilitate the development and preservation of affordable housing, aid in providing public services and facilities for low and moderate income citizens, and assisting in the creation of employment and economic opportunities in Madison County. For example, they use funds from the Homelessness Prevention/Rapid Re-Housing Program to assist individuals and families experiencing an imminent threat of eviction (prevention) or those literally homeless (re-housing). They also administer unit-based rental assistance for 32 properties in Madison County and use HOME funds to facilitate the construction of new single and multiple family housing, the rehabilitation of existing homes and multi-unit housing facilities, and provides tenant-based rental assistance.

We were able to get a look at what that actually translates into during our next and final caravan stop, which was at Emerald Ridge in East Alton. HOME funds from Madison Community Development helped with this project, which Southwestern Illinois Development Authority (SWIDA) invited us to visit. Together with the Mayor of East Alton, Joe Silkwood, we walked through a park and along extra-wide sidewalks (designed to accommodate residents with disabilities) to see 46 new single-family homes.

The first phase of Emerald Ridge was completed in 2015, and it has revitalized a previously struggling area with these homes, which surround a recreation center and are within walking distance of the library, elementary school, and high school. They are home to families who earn up to 60% of the area median income, and they are sustainable, energy-efficient, and universally-designed. A wide group of partners came together to collaborate on the first phase of the project, including the Village of East Alton, Madison County, Illinois Housing Development Authority, SWIDA, and Rise Community Development, and they’re planning to continue to work together over the next two or three decades to roll out the next phases of the project.

Scott Tankersley, Mayor Silkwood, and Kristin Ginger at Emerald Ridge

Wednesday, July 26

We started out in Effingham today, where we met up with staff at CEFS Economic Opportunity Corporation and heard about the myriad ways they’re supporting families in the Christian, Clay, Effingham, Fayette, Montgomery, Moultrie, and Shelby counties of Illinois. Through services ranging from homebuyer assistance and budget counseling to job readiness training and Meals on Wheels, they’re making a huge difference. We’re excited to have an AmeriCorps VISTA start with them in a month so they can do even more! Scott, our own VISTA, is the one who organized this whole 30th Anniversary Caravan–we wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.

Wally shows Scott around the thrift store that brings in valuable income for Bethany Village

In the afternoon, we headed south to Anna, where our Board member Wally King showed us around Bethany Village. “We specialize in the basics,” says Wally. The organization provides transitional housing, food, clothing, and support. Sadly, they’re still reeling from the state budget impasse, and they desperately need the funds that the State of Illinois owes them.

“I am starting my life over at Bethany Village,” writes Renee, a resident now on the organization’s Board of Directors. “I have developed healthy friendships and a strong support system both at Bethany Village and in the surrounding community…Bethany Village is a small, supportive community in itself and a foundation on which I am building a new life, preparing for a transition back into the larger community as a productive member of society.”

Tuesday, July 25

Sheila Dodd and Scott Tankersley at Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County

We kicked off the caravan by heading to Champaign and visiting with Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County, which is about to dedicate their 100th home! It was great to talk with Sheila Dodd, their Executive Director and one of our Board members. We learned more about how HUD funds from proven programs like HOME have helped the Habitat affiliate create good, accessible homes for families in their community. We also talked about how they’ve broadened their approach to include community development and are planning to start up a community garden among the homes they’ve built. Thanks to Sheila for talking with us and showing us around town!

After our stop in Champaign, we headed to Greenup to visit Embarras River Basin Agency, where we met with three of their staff who are working hard to help communities in nine different Illinois counties. That’s right, nine: their service area stretches from the west border of Illinois all the way to the east border. The housing and homelessness staff at ERBA are doing amazing job of working to make sure that everyone in these counties have a safe, affordable place to call home. Just one example? They help thousands of eligible low-income households access federal LIHEAP funds to pay for energy services, such as heat during brutal Illinois winters.

Past caravan stops:

We believe all people deserve access to safe, good homes. By investing in safe, good homes, we can build opportunity in communities while producing longterm benefits, ranging from increased employment and economic mobility to improved health and better education. That’s why we are joining advocates from around the country in calling for greater investment in affordable homes and in our communities. Housing Action’s 30th Anniversary Caravan is a proud participant in the Our Homes, Our Voices week of action (July 22 – July 29), which is an effort to raise awareness about the growing affordability challenges communities are facing while amplifying the need to expand federal funding for HUD and USDA programs. Visit the Our Homes, Our Voices website to find out how you can take action! Also, be sure to check out the Our Homes, Our Voices Facebook event page for updates about the campaign!