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Published: 1 year 35 weeks ago

Some residents of a north Champaign neighborhood believe groundwater contaminated with toxic chemicals from a former coal-gas manufacturing plant poses long-term health risks for people living in the area, and they want it cleaned up.

Due in part to a city ordinance that bans the drilling of new wells, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is allowing the electricity and gas utility Ameren to leave the water in place as it cleans up contaminated soil at the site at Fifth and Hill streets.

The Champaign City Council will hold a study session on Tuesday to consider repealing that ordinance. City staff will recommend keeping the rule in place.

Eleanor Blackmon, assistant city engineer, said the ordinance expedites the cleanup process while protecting health by restricting access to contamination.

"We like to see sites cleaned up, and the groundwater ordinance helps promote site cleanup,” she said.  

The 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights...

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Published: 1 year 36 weeks ago

CU-CtizenAccess is working with the Graduate School of Library Information and Science at the University of Illinois on projects in East St. Louis and Champaign.

CU-Citizen Access joined about 15 students and staff from the school Saturday at the Mary Brown Center in East St. Louis for a digital storytelling workshop.

Though the goal this week was to skim over the basics of producing publishable multimedia content,  said coordinator Martin Wolske earlier, "The hands-on introductions we're providing are especially intended to seed the brainstorming session at the end, where we plan to have participants break into smaller groups to consider how storytelling, story blogging, podcasts, and video storytelling can be used to support the organizational and community development goals of the leaders in attendance.”

East St. Louis has a very rich history, including claims to Miles Davis' boyhood home. Yet, the area has faced many economic and infrastructure...

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Published: 1 year 37 weeks ago

The trial of landlords Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo, scheduled for Monday will likely be postponed.

The Champaign County Public Health Department filed a complaint in 2009 after the Ramoses failed to legally repair a septic system at the Cherry Orchard apartment complex south of Rantoul.

A trial was scheduled in December for Jan. 24 after the Ramoses failed to vacate five of the eight buildings by Dec. 20 as they had agreed.

Since then, the health department's attorneys have attempted to negotiate another plea agreement with the Ramoses and postponed preparations for the trial when it looked like they would come to a deal. As an agreement has yet to be reached, the county's attorneys will likely ask for more time to prepare.

They are also now preparing to file an additional complaint on behalf of the county's planning and zoning department for violations of the county's revised nuisance ordinance at Cherry Orchard Apartments, said...

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Published: 1 year 37 weeks ago

Just as local agencies are gearing up for their biannual survey of the local homeless population, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced yesterday that programs that assist the homeless in Champaign County will be receiving more than $700,000 in federal grant funding for the coming year.

Nearly half of that money – about $338,000 – will go to Shelter Plus Care, a program through the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission and Community Elements (formerly the Mental Health Center of Champaign County). The program provides housing subsidies to homeless people with disabilities.

Urbana's Homeless Families in Transition program will receive about $196,000, and Community Elements' Permanent Housing and Assertive Community Treatment program, which provides housing vouchers to individuals with psychiatric disabilities or a dual diagnosis including psychiatric disabilities, developmental disabilities or HIV/AIDS, will receive about $186,000...

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Published: 1 year 38 weeks ago

Champaign County has assisted the residents of Cherry Orchard Apartments to find new places to live. The landlords, Eduardo and Bernard Ramos, were required to vacate five of the eight-building complex by Dec. 20 in an agreement with the Champaign County Public Health Department. (Related story)

Dave Hinton of the Rantoul Press gives an update below:

All tenants at Cherry Orchard apartments in rural Rantoul appear to be close to finding new homes.

For a while, it didn't look like that would happen.

Julie Pryde, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District administrator spearheading efforts, said it has been more than difficult to find permanent homes. All of the tenants are migrants.

At issue in most cases was the residents' way of conducting business.

"What we're finding out is, the migrant community, whether from Texas or Mexico, they have basically a cash economy," Pryde said. "They do not use credit. They pay...

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Published: 1 year 39 weeks ago

With the current slow economic recovery and lingering unemployment, jobs are a major topic of concern across the country.

The eBlack Champaign-Urbana project held an event Saturday at the Champaign Public Library to discuss how the Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband initiative will affect the local job market and what job-seekers can do to be prepared.

The morning began with a panel discussion featuring Craig Rost, Champaign's deputy city manager for economic development; Tom Carrino, Urbana's economic development manager; Minor Jackson, executive director of workforce development at Parkland College; and Otis Noble of the University of Illinois Office of Equal Opportunity and Access.

Among the panelist, the general consensus was that employers of all kinds will need employees who are prepared for the technological demands of the current job market.

As an example, Carrino cited an Urbana food distribution company. Not only does that company need workers to...

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Published: 1 year 39 weeks ago

A Champaign shelter that helps women and children got a little help of its own this week in the form of a $40,000, interest-free safety net loan from the city of Champaign.

The Center for Women in Transition, 508 E. Church St., applied for the loan – the first of its kind under a new program created last year – to continue funding day-to-day operations until it receives more than $100,000 in late payments from the state. On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved the loan.

In its application (which can be viewed as a PDF here), the center said it would need to draw on a line of credit from its bank, with an interest rate of up to 6.5 percent, if it did not receive the city loan. Paying interest and other costs associated with bank credit would divert the shelter's "scant fiscal resources” from its mission of providing shelter to homeless women and children and victims of domestic violence, according to the application.

The Center for Women in...

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Published: 1 year 42 weeks ago

The holidays can be a tempting time for people to stretch their budgets, but consumer advocates took to the streets of Chicago earlier this week to warn of the financial risks associated with payday loans.

Supporters of the Monsignor John Egan Campaign for Payday Loan Reform – including one in a life-sized Grinch costume – stood outside a payday loan store  Monday, singing Christmas carols to caution potential customers. (You can see photos of the event on Flickr.)

To the tune of "Silver Bells,” they sang: "Payday Loans, Payday Loans/ It's Christmastime in the city/ Hear them ring, ring-a-ling/ Soon there will be bankruptcies!”

Under current laws, payday lenders can charge fees that amount to annual interest rates of up to 404 percent. New consumer protections will take effect in Illinois in March, but that won't help shoppers who take out loans this holiday season, advocates say.

"Families are struggling to make ends meet,...

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Published: 1 year 42 weeks ago

Imagine having a family of four and trying to pay all your bills on about $11,000 a year.

It might seem impossible, but this is the economic reality for more than 6 percent of Illinois residents – about 760,000 people statewide. These people live in what federal officials call "extreme poverty,” meaning their annual income is at or below half of the federal poverty level, which $22,000 for a family of four.
 
The problem is even more prevalent locally. About 11 percent of Champaign County residents live in extreme poverty, according to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, giving the county the sixth highest rate in the state.

Last week, a commission of state officials and social service leaders released its plan cut in half the number of people living extreme poverty by 2015. (To learn more about the commission and how it created the plan, read University of Illinois journalism student Fawn Clark's story for CU-CitizenAccess...

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Published: 1 year 43 weeks ago

By Pam G. Dempsey -  On Dec. 14, the U.S. Census Bureau will be releasing 5-year data estimates between 2005 and 2009 for every place via its American Community Survey.

Unlike the U.S. Census, the American Community Survey is just that –a  detailed survey of select households in an area across several categories including income, population, race, education and housing.

Though updated data is available for every county each year through the American Community Survey, this is the first time that data will be available for every place, census tract and block group.

Census tracts are small, statistical subdivisions of a county that represent an average of 4,000 residents.

Block groups are found within a Census tract and represent a minimum of 1,000 residents. It is made up of census blocks, which are the smallest geographical unit that the U.S. Census publishes data for and that represent at least 500 residents. 

The upcoming release...

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