HOPE VI incites more controversy

HOPE VI incites more controversy

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

The Winnebago County Housing Authority has another shot at acquiring a $23 million grant for the proposed HOPE VI housing project on the west side, but some individuals remain leery of the project.

Individuals voiced their concerns at two public hearings on May 3 and May 17 attended by local officials and Jan Rubin of Jan Rubin & Associates, the project consultant and developer.

One additional hearing to heed public input will occur at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 7, at Champion Park.

Last August, the housing authority came one point short of acquiring $23 million in federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The proposal is to demolish Champion Park Housing apartments and create 290 single-family homes in the area bounded by West State Street and Liberty Drive, Pierpont Avenue and the Ingersoll Golf Course.

The proposal includes buying vacant lots throughout the neighborhood mixed with single-family, semi-detached homes and apartments for those with low and moderate incomes.

Champion Park resident Heather Sellnow has two small children and believes relocation to the housing would benefit her family.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for a lot of us,” she said. “We’re stuck here because of our financial situation. A lot of us are trapped out here.”

Sellnow lacks a car and uses a bus for transportation; she believes that better transportation will help. Rubin indicated that vehicles, including vans, will be inclusive in the plan.

At the May 3 hearing, Rev. Earl Dotson wasn’t so amenable toward the plan and questioned who is reaping the benefits financially. “Where do African Americans come in? All we’re really doing is perpetuating what’s been going on for years.”

Rubin responded that a portion of the Housing and Community Act requires that employment is provided for minorities, which the project will include. “We’re not there yet,” she said, adding that the process thus far hasn’t included decisions in regard to minority participation.

Rubin added that “we want to build families and individuals so they have an opportunity.”

Sarah Moyado, housing authority director, echoed Rubin and said, “What it will do is bring economic development and home ownership and affordable housing. We want to make home ownership available.”

However, she said that last year, the housing authority failed in “apparently, getting community outreach.”

Moyado indicated several misconceptions prevailed last year about the project in relation to the Springfield/Harrison extension currently under construction.

The Rock River Times reported last year that the projects were allegedly related. Moyado denies any relation.

Remember Tom Ditzler and the quick-take of his land on Cunningham Road last year? Opponents of the land-grab believed that one of the reasons the county wanted the Ditzlers’ property was because of the HOPE VI project.

HOPE VI requires excellent road access, which the extension would provide. Although county officials deny any relationship between HOPE VI and the extension, the quick-take legislation used for Ditzler’s land and the HOPE VI area are in the same bill.

Opponents have concluded that the reason the county dropped plans in 1996 for the Pierpont alternative and switched to the Ditzler route is because it would encompass the HUD project. Opponents also point out that land on either side of Springfield Avenue would then be available to private developers.

Regulations state the community must support the project for it to be funded. “Full resident involvement and community input are crucial elements of the HOPE VI Program,” according to the HOPE VI general guidance website. “The spirit of the HOPE VI Program is one of full consultation and collaboration among the grantee, affected residents and the broader community.”

West-side activist Marita Woolsey also speculates that wealthy individuals in Chicago want to purchase the property on which the poorer housing is located, and occupants would move to Rockford. “People have to go somewhere,” Woolsey stated.

Since the closing of Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project, many of those former residents have moved to Rockford. In fact, Rockford police officers refer to certain Rockford housing projects as “Little Chicago.”

Moyado said that a waiting list of 30 people currently exists for Champion Park. She believes that HOPE VI housing would probably be occupied by only county residents. “We need better housing,” she said.

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