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New study takes first-time look at Champaign County's housing needs

by Dan Petrella/CU-CitizenAccess '” The dream of owning an affordable home is out of reach for one out of three Champaign County residents, according to a new regional housing study commissioned by local government agencies and cities.

The housing study, prepared by Columbus, Ohio-based consultants Vogt Santer Insights, estimates that the median home value for the county this year is $139,419. Based on the widely accepted principle that housing costs should not exceed 30 percent of a family's income, this means a household would need to earn at least $32,000 annually to afford a median-priced home, according to the study.

"Therefore, one-third of households in Champaign County cannot afford the median housing cost,' the study says.

This year, Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul, the Housing Authority of Champaign County and the Regional Planning Commission teamed up to study the housing needs of the county.

The draft study will be presented at a series of upcoming public meetings


  • Urbana City Council: 7 p.m. Monday, City Council Chambers, 400 S. Vine St., Urbana
  • Champaign County Board: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Brookens Administration Center, 1776 E. Washington St., Urbana
  • Champaign City Council: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Illinois Terminal Building, 45 E. University Ave., Champaign



The cities and the Housing Authority each prepare a five-year plan in order to receive funding through various programs of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. While in the past the various entities have shared information and partnered on some programs, such as the Urbana HOME Consortium and the Urbana-Champaign Continuum of Care, this is the first time they have come together to comprehensively examine the housing demand and supply countywide.

The preliminary draft of the study can be viewed here.

"Especially once the housing market started to go in the wrong direction, we felt like it was time to work together to look at not only our jurisdictions' needs individually, but then how they tie into the county as a whole,' Kerri Spear, Champaign's neighborhood programs manager, said. "Might there be some things that we're doing well or that we can help alleviate in Champaign that another part of the group cannot, and vice versa?'

John Schneider, who heads Urbana's grants management division, said the study is going beyond HUD requirements to provide policymakers with the most up-to-date, locally reliable information available.

"It just gives us more information about how we can work together in the next few years,' Schneider said. "What we don't want to do is address the affordable housing issue in a way that's not going to be effective in the community.'

According to the study's preliminary findings:

  • There are 85,578 total housing units in the county, 9.7 percent of which are vacant, according to the Environmental Systems Research Institute's 2010 update of 2000 U.S. Census data. Data from the recent census are not yet available.
  • Countywide, about 55 percent of homes are owner occupied and 45 percent are rented, much higher than the 33 percent national share of renters. The report attributes this high percentage of renters largely to the presence of the University of Illinois and Parkland College.
  • In Rantoul, about 20 percent of the total housing units are vacant, according to the study. "This is a very high share '¦ and is due to the national foreclosure crisis, the economic recession and a declining population,' the study states.
  • Outside of Champaign, Urbana and Rantoul, there is a five-year surplus of rental housing. However, there is a need for an additional 77 units for households with annual incomes below $20,000.
  • Champaign has a significant five-year demand for rental housing. For the lowest income level, there is a need for 127 additional units. Those who earn from $20,000 to $50,000 annually need an additional 397 units, and those earning more than $50,000 need 456 more units.
  •  Next door in Urbana, there is a five-year surplus of 78 rental units for those earning less than $20,000, 85 units for the middle income bracket and 275 units for those earning more than $50,000.
  • Rantoul has a five-year surplus of rental housing for the two lower income groups of 57 units and 152 units, respectively.
  • The report estimates that the county could generate a demand for 385 new single-family homes annually in the near term. It also estimates that demand will grow by 5 percent annually for the next two years and 8 percent annually after that as the economy recovers from the recent recession.

The study is still in draft form and won't be finalized until the end of the month. At that point, the various organizations involved will develop policy recommendations to present to their individual councils and boards, most likely early next year.

The goal is to develop policies that will address the county's housing needs as a whole. "Some of these issues are not going to be solved by one city,' Spear said.

Over the past 10 years, four developments, totaling 297 units, have been developed specifically to serve low- and middle-income households. These are the Parkview Apartments senior development in Savoy, Douglass Square in Champaign and Crystal View Townhomes and Hayes Homes in Urbana.

"All four projects have been well received, but the development of affordable housing is often more complicated than the development of market-rate properties because of a series of intrinsic barriers,' according to the study. "It is not an unwillingness to engage in affordable housing development by either the public or the private sector, but the lack of resources required for successful developments to occur.'

Open house

In addition to the study of housing supply and demand, the regional housing task force has held a series of focus groups and conducted an online survey to gather input from residents about county's housing situation.

To gather more input and solicit ideas about how to address the community's housing issues, the task force will hold a series of open houses later this month. Participants will be presented with information from the study and have a chance to offer comments and suggested solutions.

Here is the schedule for the open houses:


  • 6:30-8 p.m. Nov. 15, Municipal Building, 333 S. Tanner St., Rantoul
  • 5-6:30 p.m. Nov. 16, City Building, 102 N. Neil St., Champaign
  • 10 a.m.-Noon Nov. 17, City Council Chambers, 400 S. Vine St., Urbana



The preliminary report suggests several solutions such as land trusts, tax incentives and lease-to-purchase programs as possible ways to address the demand for affordable housing.

The study also notes that the majority of county's low-income and minority populations are in Champaign-Urbana and are most highly concentrated in the northern parts of the cities along their shared border. This is also where the majority of the county's public housing properties are located.

"Deconcentrating the existing Public Housing and ensuring that new affordable housing is not concentrated in this area would be good ways to begin mitigating the real and perceived effects that come with concentrated poverty,' the study suggests.

Spear and Schneider said they cannot comment on possible policy recommendations until the study is finalized. 

The Champaign County Housing Authority manages eight multifamily public housing units in the three cities, four in Champaign, three in Urbana and one in Rantoul. There are also 16 other properties scattered throughout Champaign. There are 443 units in all with no vacancies and a waiting list of 77 households.

The Housing Authority also manages a 1,240 housing choice vouchers, 90 percent of which are used in Champaign and Urbana, even though the twin cities account for a little less than 60 percent of the county's population.

There is a waiting list of 676 households for the voucher system. "This is not due to a lack of landlords who will accept the vouchers, but an insufficient number of vouchers to meet the housing demand,' according to the study. "Additional state or federal resources would significantly mitigate this backlog.'

The Housing Authority could not be reached for comment.

¨ Copyright 2011 CU-CitizenAccess.