Monday, January 3, 2022

How 30 homes in an East Bluff affordable housing project were built despite the pandemic

Despite pandemic challenges, an effort to bring 30 new affordable homes to the East Bluff will soon be complete.

Groundbreaking for the project happened when the country was in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, but since years of planning had already gone into the effort, it was too late to turn back, said Jane Genzel, executive director of Peoria Opportunities Foundation, the organization that headed the project.

“We had the financial closing in April of 2020, and once you do the financial closing, you have X number of months to get the units online, to complete the construction and have tenants in them,” she said.

At that time, no one knew that the cost of construction materials would skyrocket. The materials cost for the 30 units doubled, from $250,000 to $500,000.

“We had to get additional funding to cover the cost, and there wasn’t a lot we could do about it, we had already started,” she said. “We are thankful that the government came through with the subsidy. Some of the money came through COVID relief. We got additional money from the city and the Illinois Housing Development Authority.”

The project was largely funded by low-income housing tax credits awarded by IHDA and equity investment from Cinnaire. Other funding sources included the city of Peoria, Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, Illinois state capital funds and construction financing from Town and Country Bank.

Shortages have also been a big problem, and they are not over yet. Washing machines and sheds have been very difficult to procure.

“I was talking to an electrician, and he said it’s the weirdest things that we’re not able to get — switch plates, something as simple as switch plates,” Genzel said. “Our contractors are buying in huge bulk. It’s not like going to Lowe’s and buying five switch plates. It’s wholesale ordering.”

A shortage of water meters and water vaults has actually held up construction on several units, said Genzel.

“That really put us behind the eight ball because we couldn’t do the final landscaping and concrete work until the water was hooked up,” she said.

In spite of the difficulties, three families moved into new homes in March. Today, 20 of the units are filled and the other 10 units are nearing completion.

Candace Webb and her 8-year-old daughter Cynthia moved into a two-bedroom stand-alone home in August.

“It’s very exciting to know that you’re the first person to ever live here,” said Webb, who has lived in a multitude of homes — but never one that is brand new. She lived in Taft Homes for about three and a half years. When she heard about new homes being built on the East Bluff, she jumped at the chance to apply.

“We were actually placed in a lottery drawing that was open to residents of Taft Homes. Then we didn’t hear anything more about it for six months to a year,” said Webb. “Then we got our notifications, then COVID hit and everything got pushed back. Once we were actually getting to the process of moving, it was just like a butterfly coming out of the cocoon — it’s completely beautiful and new.”

Sixteen of the new units were reserved for residents of Taft Homes in an effort to empty out the complex, which is being razed in phases so new affordable homes can be constructed on the site. The remaining units on the East Bluff are occupied by other applicants.

“We could have leased them out three times over,” said Genzel.

The need for affordable housing in Peoria is great. Some of the new units are funded by Section 8, and the rest are leased at an affordable rate — a two-bedroom home costs $570 a month and a three-bedroom is $748, said Genzel.

The homes were built on empty lots all through the East Bluff, and much care was taken to construct facades that blend into the historic neighborhood. Porches were given decorative pillars and siding colors were chosen to complement nearby homes.

Though she lives in a house built in 1898, Cheryl Williams is delighted with the brand-new houses going up next door.

“They are just gorgeous houses. I’m just really excited for the people that are going to move in,” she said.

Williams grew up on the East Bluff, and though she lived in Tazewell County for a portion of her adult life, she moved back to Peoria about 13 years ago. In that time, she’s seen many changes in the neighborhood, including a fire that destroyed the house next door.

“It’s really scary when you look out the window and it’s like 15 feet away,” said Williams.

Though she did enjoy the neighborhood garden that filled the empty lot for a number of years, she’s excited to get new neighbors. Williams hopes she can be helpful as they adjust to living in a single-family home. She plans to offer assistance with home maintenance issues, and she also wants to help them adjust to their new neighborhood.

“I know for a lot of them, Taft was their home, and it’s hard to move to a different neighborhood, but in the East Bluff we’ve got so much to offer. I’m only two blocks away from the community center, where we’ve got so much going on for the kids. It’s just a fabulous area over here,” she said.

Both the new homes next to Williams’ property have three bedrooms, so she’s looking forward to having neighbors with children.

“I love the sound of kids playing in the neighborhood.”


This article is written by Leslie Renken from Journal Star, Peoria, Ill. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to