CHAMPAIGN — Bristol Place, a neighborhood on the north side of Champaign that had fallen prey to crime and blight, soon will be reborn with all new houses.
Most of the old homes in the seven-block area were "housing of last resort," primarily rented by people who had few choices because of poor credit and bad rent histories.
The city acquired 80 structures, demolishing the last one in March, to clear the site for Palos Heights-based AHDVS LLC. The company will build 90 mixed housing units using low-income housing tax credits.
"We typically don't want to clear neighborhoods," said Champaign Neighborhood Services Director Kerri Wiman.
But it was the only option. Earlier attempts at rehab and a few new houses failed to generate further investment in the neighborhood, said Wiman.
In the early 2000s, the city offered some of the empty lots to non-profit groups, which turned down the offer.
The low point came after a private developer eventually built a house for $85,000, but within 10 years it was resold for $26,000.
So in 2007, the city began looking at replacing the neighborhood with a new development.
The Illinois Housing Development Authority awarded the tax credits last year. They will serve as the main financing tool for the nearly $23 million first phase.
Eighty-four of the 90 units will be reserved for low-income families who will pay rent based on a percentage of their incomes. Six will be offered at fair market value.
The new housing includes a mix of single-family detached homes, townhomes and apartments for seniors.
"It's not built yet. This round we'll be putting in the 84 new low-income housing tax credit funded units," said Wiman. "There is still another parcel to be developed inside the neighborhood that hopefully will bring another 90 units."
The city's approach, outlined in a master plan, was approved by the City Council in 2014, but not before a long process of public input and neighborhood meetings, said Wiman.
Community volunteers with the Bristol Park Neighborhood Steering Committee have been working with the city since 2011 to provide guidance.
"We started with knowing that we may have to use eminent domain (to acquire the properties) but we actually had voluntary sales on all of them except for two owners (with several properties)," she said.
Eminent domain is a legal process that lets a government take property and compensate the owners at a fair market value.
A tax increment financing district was incorporated into that area in 2017.
"It's unusual or unique in the regard that I hope that we don't have to clear a major area like that for those reasons again," said Wiman. "We hope in the future that we can find ways to continue investment to achieve quality affordable housing that meets code, that has low crime.
"That's our goal ... neighborhood wellness across the city."