EFFINGHAM — Effingham City Council members this week heard a proposal from representatives of the Illinois Housing Development Authority to perform a study of Effingham’s housing needs. This would provide the city with information about the housing options available to residents and provide a sense of what developments the community needs.
“We work together to do planning in our partner communities,” said Kris Walton, a community revitalization planner with IHDA.
The partnership is not formalized yet, though city officials intend to review the requirements for the program and formally apply in the coming weeks.
“It sounds like we’re in,” said City Administrator Steve Miller at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
IHDA would perform community outreach, a housing stock survey, community needs assessment and other planning activities to provide Effingham officials with information about the needs of the community.
“We’re not doing planning for Effingham,” said Amy Bashiti, IHDA community revitalization planning specialist.
“Do you need something for individuals that aren’t making as much or do you need something on the higher end?” said Walton.
The Chicago-based IHDA is a “quasi-state agency,” according to Bashiti. That means while chartered by state law and partially funded by state administrative funds, they operate independently and are largely financially independent from the state, earning money from mortgage fees on housing development projects.
The connection to the state made the mayor initially cautious to accept their proposal.
“Are you from the government and here to help?” said Effingham Mayor Mike Schutzbach, echoing a famous Ronald Reagan quip that criticizes government programs.
Despite the initial hesitation, the mayor did point out that understanding housing needs is an important issue.
“It sounds like it’s exactly what every community needs right now,” said Schutzbach.
This technical assistance program is relatively new, starting four years ago, according to Bashiti. In that time, it has operated in Casey, Mt. Vernon, Rantoul and Mt. Sterling. The first two cities to participate and complete the program were Peoria and East Peoria.
The information gathered from the process will be used by the city in a variety of ways, including trying to secure funding for housing development.
“Pairing that up with potential grants that might be available to those specific areas will help us get the need and the resources in line,” said Miller.
The program would take about 18 months and wouldn’t cost the city anything, apart from some small incidental costs for events like community meetings and city staff support.
“The sooner the better,” said City Commissioner Hank Stephens.
IHDA’s planning meetings and housing studies come at a time when the city of Effingham is engaging in several planning initiatives. These initiatives will be used in, among other things, a major update to the city’s comprehensive plan to come later this year.
The comprehensive plan is a tool that outlines goals of the city. This includes urban planning strategy for residential, commercial and industrial areas, housing needs, transportation, environmental impacts of city development, relationships with government agencies like school districts and the state, utilities, zoning and more.
“It really is everything,” said Miller.
In practice, this plan helps decide things like where businesses can operate and where new homes can be built in addition to what programs the city government funds.
“It’s a playbook for the city,” said Miller.
The city’s current comprehensive plan was originally laid out in the mid-1990s and parts of it have been updated throughout the years, most recently in 2014, 2017 and 2020. This will be the first complete review and possible overhaul of the plan since it was initially developed.
To create the updated comprehensive plan, the city intends to use information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the IHDA program, required public hearings with residents of the city, and information gathered as part of an Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs program that aims at mapping out the goals of several county communities, including Effingham.