Wrong Deal

After all the superb efforts developing the River District Framework Plan, which promoted market-rate housing, a developer from Milwaukee wants to build an 85-unit high-density, low-income housing development in the crucial Old Amerock Building next to Davis Park.

When this project came up over three years ago, I was assured that it would be at most 10 to 20 percent low-income housing. Now I find out that 88 percent of the units would be very low or low-income housing. Oh, no!

The astonishing thing is not that this developer wants to make some money in our town, but that the City of Rockford staff is supporting the project, and others, including River District Board members are supporting the project because, I understand, they have been lead to believe that this is the “only” way to do large-scale residential development in the area. That suggestion is wrong.

In fact, market rate housing can and is happening in the District and this proposed development could be a disaster to the development of that residential market.

Take a look at our lofts at the Morrissey Building, the William Brown Lofts across from the Metro Center, or the Medicine Man lofts and Irish Rose lofts in the Block 5 area of East State Street, or the many excellent housing units in Haight Village or Indian Terrace. These small developments are excellent examples of awesome market rate housing in the District. These projects are happening right now.

We are on the verge of even larger, market rate projects. I know, because I am working on some of those multi-million dollar market rate projects right now. I can tell you first hand, however, that large-scale market rate housing developers will not continue to develop their plans for the District if they feel that the area is trending back to income-restricted housing.

This is not a matter of “not in our backyard.” Our “backyard” is simply full and out-of-balance. The Luther Center, Faust Landmark, Skyrise Apartments, Olson Plaza, and North Main Manor are all massive buildings with restricted housing.

While we are making inroads at balancing the area’s housing offerings, this is still basically a command economy when it comes to housing. Government-subsidized, low-income housing has controlled and dictated the marketplace and has deterred private market rate housing from developing. While we are on the brink of actually creating a private market-rate housing market, that burgeoning market will be crushed under the massive dimensions of this proposed Amerock development.

The wrong-way Amerock project would perpetuate the myth that Downtown is not a place for market-rate development in the City. This would also perpetuate the fact that almost all of the large residential buildings in the River District are income restricted housing. No matter what promises an out-of-town developer of high density, low income housing might make, this community will be stuck with the project if those promises are not kept. Once the building becomes a low-income development, that financing mechanism will keep the building low income for decades to come.

Take a look around town at the many failures of high-density, low-income housing. Even Rockford Housing Authority officials will tell you that the preference among tenants is for scattered site, low-income housing and not the high-density variety. This is why Cabrini-Green is being torn down in Chicago. Large-scale low-come housing does not work!

Have you spent time at other high-density, low income housing developments in the area? Check out Campus Towers and Jane Adams complex, which even the RHA is considering demolishing. Check out Concord Commons on west state street. That is a low to moderate income development. You tell me if you would want to live there. Seriously, go there today and check it out. Wharehousing low-income residents has been proven to be an operational and social failure. Only scattered sites work!

How ludicrous and totally contrary to past experience with high density, low income housing projects to think that we will be the lucky ones and get some sort of “utopia” of low-income working folks to populate that development. These may not be fun questions to ask, but we have a responsibility to ask them; we must all realize what’s at state.

The good news is that I have been assured by River District Board President, Sarah Skorija, that a River District member-forum will be sponsored within the week to gauge the membership’s views on the development and folks from both sides of the controversy, including the developer, will be invited to attend to explain their positions. River District members and the community as a whole should have a voice in this critical decision.

Action is supposed to be taken by the State of Illinois Housing Development Authority on May 21, 2003 in Springfield. Whatever your position is on the issue, make your voice heard now.

You can contact my office at LarryM@morrisseylaw.com; Alderman Doug Mark at saldugmark@ameritech.net; River District Board President, Sarah Skorija, at SarahS@rockford.lib.il.us; Community Development Director, Jim Caruso, at 987-5600; and Kelly King Dibble, Director of the State of Illinois Housing Development Authority, at (312) 836-5200 or kdibble@ihda.org.

Do we want low-income housing right on Davis Park–home to all of our festivals, including On the Waterfront? Of course not! What an image for our community! This is a crucial piece of riverfront real estate that must be seen as a possible hotel, retail space, restaurants, boat docks, condos, market-rate housing or all the above–a tourism center. We should not give up on those possiblities for the first option that comes along, especially when the River District is on the verge of total success and further investment. Act now, for our future.

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