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Central Illinois county clerks, public housing officials want to see larger returns from state rental housing support program

 County clerks and public housing authority officials met Tuesday at the Peoria County Courthouse with state representatives and senators to discuss their concerns about the distribution of money collected for rental support on every document filed in the county recorder's office.
Tim Shelley
County clerks and public housing authority officials met Tuesday at the Peoria County Courthouse with state representatives and senators to discuss their concerns about the distribution of money collected for rental support on every document filed in the county recorder's office.

Central Illinois county clerks and recorders say their communities aren't getting their fair share from the money collected through an obscure rental housing support program fee.

A bill passed by the General Assembly's lame duck session doubles the fee assessed by county recorders on documents, from $9 to $18. Many county recorder offices have merged with county clerk offices around the state.

Central Illinois county clerks say they'd like to see more of those funds they collect locally to come back home. Currently, the Illinois Housing Development Authority distributes nearly 70 percent of the money to Chicago and Cook County. The remainder is split between what are defined as "small metro areas" and "rural areas."

Tazewell County Clerk and Recorder John Ackerman said his office has collected more than $1.5 million for the state program over the past decade, with none of it returning for rental assistance in his county.

"There's been no revenue whatsoever, grant revenue, brought back to our county. So it adds up after a while," he said. "It's quite a heavy investment that we're making to get nothing in return."

Peoria County contributed nearly $250,000 in fees in fiscal year 2021. Just about $13,000 worth of grants came back to the community, Ackerman said.

Latoya Brown is executive director of the East Peoria Housing Authority. The city, which lies directly across the Illinois River from Peoria, is classified as a rural community under the IHDA grant program.

"There is a serious lack of decent, safe and sanitary housing across the board, not just in East Peoria or Peoria County," she said. "I would like to see a better distribution of these funds. I'd like to see them go back into the community and go back into some affordable housing opportunities."

Dennis Green, executive director of the Pekin Housing Authority, said it's difficult to obtain information on the program, and how to apply for the grants. Bloomington Housing Authority executive directory Jeremy Hayes agreed.

"We just weren't familiar with this program, and how it's accessed or the parameters how we would go about applying," Hayes said.

Lily Walton, executive director of the Champaign County Housing Authority, said even if an agency makes it through the granting process, using the money is difficult. The county received about $950,000 in grants to assist formerly incarcerated people obtain housing through a reentry program. Walton said only about $120,000 of that money was actually spent, with the rest given back to the state.

"The way IHDA has set up the program, we are supposed to take referrals from the Illinois Department of Corrections. So if we don't receive referrals from IDOC, we're not able to house, and therefore we're not able to spend the money that we've been granted," Walton said. "And we do have people in our community that need this program. But we are kind of in the middle of not having the referrals and getting the money."

Walton said IDOC only referred five people for the first grant, and none for the second grant they received.

Derek Antoine, executive director of the Knox County Housing Authority, urged state legislators at a Tuesday meeting at the Peoria County Courthouse to look at opening up both the application and grants process for the program.

"Let the folks within the jurisdiction that know the business figure a need for it, and an application for it and a use for it," he said. "That is going to benefit not only the folks that are already housed or have the ability to be housed. But those folks who are unsheltered and those folks who are dying in the street, because it's that cold."

The legislation passed during the lame duck session also creates a new state task force is being formed to make recommendations for changes. Ackerman said the county clerks want to ensure downstate has a voice on the panel to help address what they see as inequities in the revenue distribution.

Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons said he's not sure how the state got to this point in the first place.

"I think that the formula, the entire process of how this has been set up, needs to be revisited. While I'm anxious and excited about the possibility of a task force, my negotiating style is a little bit different," Ammons said. "I would not have given away all of my power and hope that somebody will give me something on the back end. That's not how I feel we should negotiate."

State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) told the county clerks and public housing officials that he believes representation on the task force needs to be geographically diverse, but he also believes lawmakers need to hear directly from IHDA executive director Kristin Faust.

"We need to hear from the folks that actually implement the program as to what's going on. And then we need to talk about what changes need to be made," he said.

The Illinois Housing Development Authority didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.