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Work has begun on 'Providence Pointe,' the new development replacing Taft Homes

PHA Taft groundbreaking.jpg
Hannah Alani

A $43 million effort to redevelop Peoria's Taft Homes is finally underway.

City leaders joined the Peoria Housing Authority and Bear Development Thursday in celebrating the groundbreaking of Providence Pointe -- the new name for Taft Homes.

Tina Wiegand moved to Taft Homes in 2015. On Thursday, she said the redevelopment gives her pride in where she lives.

“We will now have new affordable housing that’s modern, secure and safe,” she said. “It’s so exciting, it’s scary sometimes. … We’re really looking forward to this.”

Many residents – 95 households – decided to live on-site in temporary housing during the redevelopment.

Once completed, new housing will be offered to residents living on-site.

Adam Templer works for Bear Development, the Wisconsin-based company that will be redeveloping Taft Homes over the next few years.

He told WCBU the first wave of completed housing could be built by the end of summer 2022.

“It’s a change asking people to move, even if it’s just across a parking lot to a unit temporarily,” he said. “Recognizing it’s not the easiest time for residents … when it’s all done, it will be a fully transformed site.”

Constructed in 1952 and named after an Ohio Senator, the Robert A. Taft Homes development was originally built to serve as temporary housing for veterans of the Korean War. The housing complex is adjacent to the Illinois River and just north of Downtown Peoria.

Soon after the end of the Korean War, the buildings were transitioned to low-income housing.

Peoria Mayor Dr. Rita Ali said residents of Taft have waited long enough for improved housing conditions.

“Taft residents deserve this,” Ali said.

The redevelopment project — years in the making — takes advantage of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development's Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program.

The program transitions public housing into Section 8 housing and allowed the Peoria Housing Authority to leverage private capital to fund the redevelopment project.

Financial closing took place Sept. 17. After that, Bear has a few weeks to transfer tenants’ leases.

After the groundbreaking, Templer told WCBU he’s followed the radio station’s coverage of issues related to the relocation of residents.

Family Of 7 Fights For Better Living Conditions At Taft Homes: 'You Can't Treat A Dog Like This'

Between Bear, property management group Evergreen and the PHA, Templer said he wants residents to feel like their voices are heard moving forward.

“We have staff resources at Bear and the on-site staff with Evergreen and then PHA, too, to hopefully address questions,” he said. “And as things come up, and they will come up, we’ll work with each resident to make sure their concerns are addressed.”

‘We were in trouble’

Carl Cannon leads the board of the Housing Authority. He also grew up in Taft Homes.

On Thursday he said he was thrilled to break ground on the updating of the complex where he once lived.

“We were in trouble,” Cannon said. “So we went to the hospital … Hospital’s about 90 minutes away, located in Springfield. We found a doctor. And that’s Jackie Newman.”

Jackie Newman, director of the Springfield Housing Authority, stepped in at the Department of Housing and Urban Development at the request of to help PHA navigate Taft’s future.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development physically inspected Taft Homes five times from 2013 to 2019, and of those visits, Taft failed three inspections.

Newman has said the cost to perform needed repairs at Taft far exceeds the cost to demolish and rebuild. Q&A: Interim Peoria Housing Authority Director Jackie Newman Answers Questions On Taft Redevelopment

Though she is not herself a Peorian, Newman said one doesn’t need to be local to care about a community and its people.

Newman thanked Peoria Mayor Dr. Rita Ali, as well as Peoria’s former mayor, current city manager and other local leaders for supporting the redevelopment process.

She also thanked Bear Development for securing the financing needed to redevelop Taft Homes.

“Affordable housing development is never easy … never an easy task,” she said. “It typically takes between 5 to 7 years, between concept to closing. So, this development has been an extraordinary exception to the general rule.”

‘Taft residents deserve this’

Earlier this week, Newman told WCBU the PHA worked with residents, staff and board commissioners to come up with the new name for the housing complex.

Denise Moore, the former City Council representative for the 1st District, said the new name makes a lot of sense.

“The definition of ‘providence’ I most associate with this project is ‘preparation for the future,’” Moore said. “Providence Pointe will be a launching point from which residents will be able to chart their own futures.”

Bear Development is still working to have tenants from all 95 households sign new the leases, Templer said.

If desired, the 95 households remaining on-site will have the opportunity to move into the new Providence Pointe housing once it is constructed, Templer said.

Though Taft's name is changing, PHA Board Chairman Carl Cannon says past heroes of Taft heroes will be honored in the redevelopment.

For example, a neighborhood street will be renamed for Authur Mae Perkins, a longtime Peoria Public Schools educator and former PHA board member.

Perkins, who grew up in the neighborhood long before Taft Homes was constructed in 1952, said she can’t wait to see her name on a street sign.

“I think it will feel wonderful,” she said. “And I think it will be extra fine to show my great-great grandchildren … bring them down and show them, ‘Look there, there’s the street.’”

During Thursday’s ceremony, Newman asked members of PHA staff to stand so they could be applauded for their work.

Rhonda Sexton, president of AFSCME 3464 – the local union representing PHA workers – led activists in chanting, “Fair contract now!”

AFSCME and PHA are currently negotiating workers’ contracts.