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An East Bluff affordable housing development is mostly complete. Community leaders see more need

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Joe Deacon
Community leaders and elected officials joined Peoria Opportunities Foundation Executive Director Jane Genzel at the ribbon-cutting for the East Bluff Community Homes on Thursday in Peoria.

As she thanked all the people, businesses and organizations that collaborated to make the East Bluff Community Homes a reality, Jane Genzler called the affordable housing project “the tip of the iceberg.”

Genzler, executive director of the Peoria Opportunities Foundation, spoke Thursday at a ribbon-cutting in front of one of the development’s properties on Delaware Street, just north of the Glen Oak Community Learning Center.

“We know that there's more affordable housing that’s needed in the community,” said Genzler. “There’s not enough affordable housing in Peoria; there have been several research studies done that we just don't have enough.

“In order to do additional housing, we have to apply for additional funding. But there is definitely more in the future.”

The $12 million East Bluff project is turning 24 formerly vacant lots into 30 affordable housing units — 20 single-family homes and five duplexes. Genzler said 20 units already are complete and have tenants, three more will be leased by the end of the month, and the rest will be finished by the end of the year.

“We talk a lot about things that the city's doing and what the community is doing for our neighborhoods, but to see a manifestation of 25 newly constructed homes and 30 units of affordable housing, this is a big milestone,” said Third District Peoria City Council Member Tim Riggenbach.

Genzler thanked city officials and local state legislators for their cooperation in securing some of the funding, noting tax credits and additional support provided by the Illinois Housing Development Association (IHDA).

“This ribbon-cutting is not the end of the work, but another step forward in creating a city and an entire state where all residents can live affordably in the community of their choice,” said Karen Davis, IHDA deputy executive director.

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Joe Deacon
Mayor Rita Ali speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the East Bluff Community Homes on Thursday in Peoria.

Henry Blackwell, the Peoria Opportunities Foundation’s board president, said projects like this development often run into financial struggles, but the finished product is worth the challenges.

“It's just amazing to see how well they turned out, and I'm just happy too for the new residents that are going to be moving in,” said Blackwell. “This is going to be a great opportunity for them. They're going to have better housing, higher quality, affordable. They're going to be in great shape.”

Genzler said the East Bluff Community Homes turned into a five-year project, from start to finish. A virtual groundbreaking ceremony was held in May 2020, but the development encountered several delays brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had no idea the shortages of materials that we were going to encounter, the shortages of labor, the additional expense having to do with purchasing,” she said, noting cost overruns approached $250,000. “Materials were just more expensive than we originally budgeted, all kinds of challenges. So to have it close to being done is incredible.”

Genzler said their waiting list of lower-income families interested in affordable housing is long enough to have leased the East Bluff Community Homes three times over.

“One of the greatest gifts a person can give is a home. One of the greatest gifts a person can receive is a home,” said Mayor Rita Ali. “A home is so important to inspiring people to do better, especially a quality home like this.”

Genzler said affordable housing should not viewed in the same manner as it was 50 years ago.

“I think people need to see that it's an asset in the community. People think of affordable housing and they think of housing that's really rundown,” she said. “This is brand new high brand new housing, and we have a property management company that's going to keep it in good shape.”

Genzler said the East Bluff has a lot of older housing and rental properties that haven’t been kept up, with poor insulation and outdated windows that result in tenants having to pay more to heat their homes in the winter.

“For a lot of folks, when people hear the term ‘affordable housing,’ oftentimes, they just think cheap rent. But it also includes the utilities,” said Riggenbach. “If you don't have a well-insulated house, if you have old windows, those utility bills can make affordable rent, unaffordable in the big picture. So this is a very critical part of what we can do for our community.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.