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Peoria mayor hopes to grow population through reducing crime, increasing housing

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Jordan Mead
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Peoria Mayor Rita Ali during Wednesday night's State of the City, her first address as the mayor.

Growing the city's population is a top priority for Peoria Mayor Rita Ali.

That's one highlight from her first State of the City address on Wednesday night at the Scottish Rite Theater.

Ali said there are many community development opportunities that lie ahead.

“We have funding to demolish buildings and homes where you see sunken in roofs and boarded up properties. Well, a lot of these properties are going to be coming down because we have grants through (the) Illinois Housing Development Authority and some funding that the city is assisting with," she said.

Crime remains a major concern in Peoria, which saw 34 homicides last year. That's the highest total on record.

Ali said when looking at what next year has to offer, she hopes to see a major crime reduction, especially crimes including gun violence.

“Shootings to go down, homicides to go down. Next year, I want to be able to say, ‘we made some impact there,’” Ali said.

Recently, Ali said that Peoria has taken active steps towards improving public safety with multiple anti-violence initiatives, launching the Police Plus Mental Health Emergency Response Pilot Program and implementing more camera technology. Ali also noted police have been diligent about completing numerous arrests, gun confiscations and recovering stolen vehicles.

Now, Peoria has $1.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds set aside for violence reduction.

“We are going to put out a request for a proposal outside of cure violence to try to attract other community-based organizations that are interested in doing violence prevention programing. That might be youth development. That might be, typically street outreach is kind of connected with the more evidence-based strategy like a Cure Violence, but there’s other opportunities for mentoring and again after school programming and those types of opportunities that can help prevent youth from getting involved in crime,” Ali said.

Though it’s not only crime related issues that Ali said she hopes will improve this year. Ali said she wants to see progress on the potential passenger rail system to improve access to transportation in the Peoria area.

Ali also said increasing access to affordable housing is a key goal, highlighting this year’s recent launch of the Down Payment Assistance program.

“I want to see more progress in the area of housing providing quality, affordable housing for our residents. We lack that. We don’t have enough of it. There’s a lack of housing stock across the nation, right, but in Peoria that’s what I’m concerned about. We need to provide more opportunities, especially in areas that need reinvestment,” Ali said.

Through this year’s Down Payment Assistance Program, the Land Bank initiative and other efforts, Ali said Peoria is looking to make good use of already existing buildings and properties within Peoria’s qualified census tracks.

“[The Land Bank] gives us more control over the land. So, we’re purchasing some of those properties, vacant lots or vacant buildings that are not being put to good use that the county has. We’re buying them rather than to allow people buy them online and just let them sit and not do anything productive with,” Ali said.

In addition to this, Peoria been seeking efforts to increase housing for people facing housing insecurity and homelessness.

Ali said with the help from Phoenix Community Development Services, Illinois Housing Development Authority funds and other community partners, more families are being given access to homes.

Ali said the waiting list to get a home is nearly being exhausted because of these efforts.

“We’re hopeful that it’s going to be exhausted or eliminated within the next one to two years. That doesn’t mean for individuals. There are individuals that are not connected with a family who don’t have children connected with them. So, there’s still housing needs for those homeless individuals,” Ali said.

Ali said while Peoria has a lot of problems, it has a lot of opportunities, too.

As the city seeks to eradicate major concerns – poverty, crime, and homelessness – and as the city hopes to flourish economically, the mayor said it is important to draw in more people. Ali said without increasing access to housing, Peoria won’t thrive.

“There’s certain areas, and I talked about 61605, where there’s distress. We have to regain that population in that area. If we don’t regain that population, we won’t draw back the business community, the grocery stores, the pharmacies and so forth. So, it’s kind of like the chicken and the egg: what comes first?” Ali said.

Ali continued, “We have to have the quality housing in order to begin to draw the businesses to that area. There’s people that would love to live again on Peoria’s South Side. We got to have the housing for them.”

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Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WCBU. She joined the station in 2021.