BLOOMINGTON — A proposal to build 50 new housing units on city-owned property that was once the site of a motel near downtown could provide some relief for those most in need of affordable housing in McLean County: the poor and those with behavioral health issues.
Under review by the Illinois Housing Development Authority is David Penn Apartments, a three-story complex planned on three lots in the 400 block of East Washington Street, which includes the now-vacant site of the former Coachman Motel, according to Tim Ryan with Laborers' Home Development Corp., developers for the project.
Ryan discussed the project, named for a longtime labor and community leader who died in 2014, during a round-table discussion Wednesday organized by McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre on the issue of housing for mentally ill residents. Representatives of local behavioral health, public housing, and other social service agencies discussed current housing resources and the challenges of an unmet need for more.
The Springfield-based not-for-profit development company, an affiliate of the Laborers' International Union of North America, has built about 1,000 housing units in the state, including senior and supportive living facilities.
The Coachman site proposal, with a construction cost of $5 million to $6 million, is the third attempt by Laborers' Home to obtain state approval for a Bloomington project, said Ryan, explaining that two previous proposals on the city's west side were rejected because of location issues.
Bloomington Economic Development Coordinator Austin Grammer declined to comment on the proposed project, citing the city's policy of letting developers share information with the public about their proposed projects.
Speaking in general terms, Grammer said, "The city is always interested in partnering with developers to address the need for affordable housing."
McLean County's housing market is top heavy with homes costing more than $300,000 to build, McLean County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Vasudha Pinnamaraju told the housing group.
"What we're building is not for affordable housing," said Pinnamaraju.
Jeremy Hayes, development director with the Bloomington Public Housing Authority, said the agency is no longer taking applications for Section 8 federal housing subsidies. It could be several years before the waiting list of hundreds of applicants is open, said Hayes.
The longest wait for public housing is for one-bedroom units, an option sought by low-income singles and couples, said Hayes.
Laura Furlong, chief executive of with Marcfirst, estimated that her agency turns away about 10 families per month looking for a place for an adult family member with a developmental disability. Stagnant state funding has kept the agency from expanding services, she said.
Chestnut Health Systems and the McLean County Center for Human Services both have transitional and permanent housing units for people who need mental health services. Mayors Manor, a 26-unit complex operated by Mid Central Community Action, includes supportive services to its residents.
McIntyre said he plans to continue the discussion on housing, one of four major issues identified in the County Board's Mental Health Action Plan adopted in 2015 to address deficiencies with community mental health that have been linked to increases of mentally ill people cycling through the jail.