Village trying to expand on success of housing
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
A housing development that helped transform the core of East Alton could be greatly expanded under a plan being promoted to the state.
Mayor Joe Silkwood and others traveled to Chicago in September to meet with officials of the Illinois Housing Development Authority to push their case for funding for the expansion of the Emerald Ridge area.
The first phase of the $16 million Emerald Ridge project replaced much of the old defense housing area, a rundown neighborhood comprised of post-World War II homes built by the federal government for the munitions workers at the neighboring Olin Corp. plant.
Dilapidated housing was razed in 2014, and 46, picturesque single-family homes were built in its place in the 300 and 400 blocks of East Drive, the 600 block of North Drive and the 300 and 400 blocks of Ohio Street.
Wood River Avenue, a main north-south lateral through the village, is just east of the site, which surrounds a playground.
The next phase, expected to be similar to the first in size, would be further to the north, basically an expansion of the project footprint, Silkwood said, although he hesitates to pinpoint exact streets.
At the Chicago meeting with the mayor were representatives of the developer, Bywater Development Group of St. Louis, and of the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority, a partner in the proposal before the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
Silkwood said the group discussed what could be done to improve the grant application, which last year made it to a second round but did not win funding. That proposal has been revised and will be resubmitted in November and officials should know sometime in the spring if East Alton is selected.
At the same time, the village is pursuing “land banking” funds to try to reduce the overall costs. The money would be used to acquire properties as they become available. The money would be replenished in the land banking fund by selling to the developer once the project got going.
“We’d probably try to apply for around $300,000,” the mayor said. “Ultimately, it should help us score better in the overall project.”
Land banking money is available through a settlement fund in the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
Phase 2 would feature the same complex scenario of financing that Phase 1 featured, which was a mix of around a dozen sources of public and private money, mostly federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, administered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
The success of the first phase and the potential funding of a second phase could lead to more.
“As I look at the map and we pencil it out, I really think it could be as many as five phases total,” he said. Townhouses, rather than single-family, would be more likely in third, fourth or fifth phases because of the configuration of land and the layout of streets in that area. Again, specific streets are not being mentioned. In reality, the project could take years to unfold and specifics could change, he said.
“The ultimate goal is to have the defense area completely replaced someday, but to get through five phases we’re probably talking 20 years to do that. Our job now is to get Phase 2 done,” he said.
The developer for the first phase was RISE. Now, it’s Bywater, whose two principals, David Dodson and Aaron Burnett, had previously worked for RISE and had written the early grant proposals for Phase 1.
Emerald Ridge housing has proven popular.
“They are 100 percent filled and there is probably a waiting list of 80 people. In fact, the waiting list has gotten so big you can’t get on it right now,” he said.
The homes are available for rental to people earning up to 60 percent of the area median income (which as of 2015 was $40,260 for a family of four in Madison County). When it first opened rents ranged from $575 to $735. Qualified renters will be allowed to purchase their homes after 15 years, which has been an incentive for the developers to keep the area well maintained, Silkwood said.