The Rock Island Housing Authority is building the first public housing in the Quad Cities in more than two decades. Six homes for low- and moderate-income people are currently under construction - at a cost of $1 million - and the authority has applied for funding for another six. All 12 will be part of the housing authority's Home Ownership Incentive Program, which is intended to help public-housing tenants buy their own houses.

"We are a community-based organization, and our goal is to put homes in neighborhoods that can be revitalized," said Rock Island Housing Authority (RIHA) Executive Director Susan Anderson. "We hope that by putting homes in areas that are in the process of 'turning around,' we will see growth and other things happening."

On September 14, RIHA held a groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of the Keystone Home, 800 42nd Street. Construction on the first six homes, all of which have in the neighborhood of 1,300 square feet, is expected to be completed early next year.

The 12 planned scattered-site houses will replace a portion of the Valley Homes public-housing complex, which is scheduled to be torn down starting as soon as 2006. The complex, located at 25th Street and 11th Avenue, was built in the early 1970s and has 57 housing units. The federal Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has approved the demolition plan, and last month RIHA applied for demolition funds.

An Affordable-Housing Shortage

The new homes represent the first new construction of public housing in the Quad Cities since 1982, and the RIHA is the only local housing authority with any home-construction projects on the horizon. Rock Island last built public housing in 1974.

The Davenport Housing Authority hasn't constructed any new housing since 1982, said Executive Director Margaret Murphy. She also said the housing authority has no plans to build new housing anytime soon.

Similarly, the Moline Housing Authority hasn't constructed any new housing since 1971, said Executive Director Teresa Meegan. She said the authority doesn't expect to build new housing in the near future but added that it's always a possibility. Bettendorf doesn't own any public housing for low- and moderate-income people.

The lack of public-housing construction in the Quad Cities mirrors a national trend.

HUD is the primary source for public-housing funding, and its budget for new housing subsidies was cut dramatically two decades ago - from $50.7 billion in 1981 to $27.5 billion in 1982, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. From 1982 to 1995, that annual budget never rose above $20 billion and was as low as $9.3 billion.

While the construction of public housing has been scarce, the need continues to grow as the cost of housing rises. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition's 2003 "Out of Reach" report (, "In 1999, the national two-bedroom housing wage was $11.08; in 2003, the national housing wage is $15.21, a 37-percent increase." The "housing wage" is the hourly rate a person needs to earn to afford a market-rate apartment. "Affordable" housing is defined as costing no more than 30 percent of a person's income. The "Out of Reach" report continued: "The loss of modest rental-housing stock continues, as market forces drive up the cost of housing, and government fails to intervene to level the playing field."

The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimated that in 2000, the United States was in need of at least 4.9 million more affordable housing units to accommodate low- and moderate-income families.

John A. Powell, a law professor at The Ohio State University who has studied trends in affordable housing, noted that while local housing authorities recognize the problem and are doing their best to address it, they can't solve it on their own. "Unless there is a national group to address the issues that public affordable housing creates, then the problems will only increase," he said.

Homes for Displaced Residents

By building six new homes, the Rock Island Housing Authority is bucking both national and local trends.

The six homes will be in four different Rock Island neighborhoods, all on the north side of the city. The Broadway neighborhood will have two single-family townhomes at 1000-1002 17th Street; Douglas Park will have homes at 518 Ninth Street and 913 Sixth Street; the Keystone home will be at 800 42nd Street; and Longview will host a house at 717 14th Street.

HUD has provided Replacement Housing Fund Grant money for the project, and the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity has given an energy grant. The homes are being financed through Quad City Bank & Trust.

Even though Valley Homes won't be demolished until 2006 at the earliest, the new RIHA homes are intended for displaced Valley residents.

RIHA Executive Director Anderson said Valley Homes residents will be given priority for the new homes over people in other public-housing residences. She also said that those with the highest incomes will be considered first. The RIHA's Home Ownership Incentive Program has minimum income requirements for various household sizes. For instance, a four-person household would need to have an annual income of at least $28,100 to be eligible. RIHA has not yet set purchase prices for the six homes, Anderson said.

"I don't foresee a problem with residents of Valley Homes meeting our income specifications," Anderson said. "We should have enough families to occupy the six homes being built." Eighteen Valley Homes families have expressed interest in the Home Ownership Incentive Program, she added.

Valley Homes presently has 53 families living there. HUD requires housing authorities to find new homes for families displaced by the demolition of public housing, noted Robert Simmons, outreach and education coordinator for the Iowa Coalition for Housing & the Homeless.

Simmons said that typically housing authorities don't build new housing to accommodate displaced families; instead, they often give them Section 8 vouchers, which can be used with private landlords that accept them. "Disposition [the ratio of renters to the number of homes built] is a major issue at this point," he said. "Each housing authority should have a plan as to where individuals will be placed following the construction and demolition of public affordable housing." He added that the plan should not assume that additional Section 8 vouchers will be available or that landlords will accept them; in other words, housing authorities should expect to either put displaced residents in existing public-housing facilities or build new homes for them.

RIHA seems to be following those guidelines, generally speaking. Beyond the 12 planned single-family homes, RIHA is in the process of applying for funding to build eight townhomes. Sites for the second round of six homes and the townhomes have not been secured, Anderson said. In addition, two Rock Island landlords have agreed to let displaced Valley Homes residents live in 16 newly renovated units.

In total, RIHA has identified 36 planned or rehabilitated housing units for Valley Homes residents.

Good for the Neighborhood?

Of the four neighborhoods that will have the first round of new RIHA homes, three support the new construction, according to Gail Brooks, spokesperson for the agency. The Broadway neighborhood group has expressed concerns.

"Broadway neighborhood has an older architectural design, which initiated some controversy," Anderson said.

But the neighborhood objected to more than the design. "We are not against affordable housing being built as long as it is homeowner-based, and not a rental unit," said Broadway Historic District board member Ed Hanna.

Although the six new homes will be part of the RIHA's Home Ownership Incentive Program, there's no guarantee that the people living there will ever own the homes.

Implemented this year, the Home Ownership Incentive Program is a rental program through which tenants have the option to buy their homes after five years. To stay in the program, participants must demonstrate progress within two years in the areas of maintaining the home and managing finances, Anderson said. They must also complete counseling and training.

Hanna said that the Broadway board is concerned that these new homes will be poorly maintained.

Anderson said one of RIHA's goals is to spur the development of diverse neighborhoods through infill housing and mixed-income properties. She added that she hopes there's a domino effect with the new construction, inspiring other property owners to improve their neighborhoods.

In spite of all the talk about revitalization, the sites for the six under-construction homes were chosen primarily because the property was available at little or no cost, Anderson said. That means that the city's more transitional neighborhoods are getting all the new public housing.

"We are really trying our best to revitalize neighborhoods," Anderson said.

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