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Congressman Sorensen touts home ownership during tour of Peoria infrastructure projects

Congressman Eric Sorensen speaks in front of a Habitat for Humanity Home on E. Illinois Ave. in Peoria.
Collin Schopp
Congressman Eric Sorensen speaks Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in front of a Habitat for Humanity Home on East Illinois Avenue in Peoria.

Illinois Congressman Eric Sorensen visited Peoria Thursday for a tour of infrastructure projects designed to build and revitalize affordable housing across the city.

All of the visited projects included some amount of federal funding. Examples include sidewalks planned for restoration on Gift Avenue, and Habitat for Humanity homes, both finished and still in progress, on East Illinois Avenue. The group of politicians and Peoria area nonprofit leaders also visited the future home of Phoenix Manor, the former Methodist College of Nursing facility rehabilitated into 55 housing units for unhoused individuals and families.

The tour ended with a visit to the former sites of the McKinley and Harrison schools that are both undergoing environmental testing ahead of redevelopment.

At one stop of the tour, Sorensen, a Democrat who represents the 17th Congressional District, announced he is working to secure $1 million in federal funding for more Peoria projects in upcoming Congress appropriation bills. The projects will depend on garnering bipartisan support to restore more sidewalks and build more affordable housing.

“In the next few weeks, I'll be working across the aisle in a bipartisan way to make sure that we fully secure these funds to help Peoria grow, create jobs and support working families and businesses,” he said.

Sorensen said everyone benefits when the path to home ownership is made more accessible, citing his own experience renting for years before buying his first home six years ago.

“I know what it means today to live in a home, to be able to put roots down in my own community, to be able to take care of it,” said Sorensen. “I want to go out there and plant flowers in the flower bed.”

Iraq War veteran Jeff Sikes has experienced the benefits of home ownership first hand. After returning from active duty, Sikes said he faced medical and financial challenges, and didn’t think a home to call his own was in the near future.

“When I mentioned that, I was trying to get it, my case manager for Wounded Warrior Project was like, ‘Well, okay, that's a big, huge goal,’” said Sikes. “But it turned out that it came through, so that's a blessing.”

Through the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Peoria, Sikes has been a homeowner for four years.

“When I got to a house where I can afford it, where I can build a life, it relieves a lot of stress,” he said. “Which then, you know, amazingly, you know, helped with my PTSD and made me want to be around people a lot more.”

Proponents of affordable housing point to stories like Sikes’ as evidence that projects to revitalize and build new homes improve communities and help lift people out of poverty.

Sorensen said the sidewalk restoration projects also are critical, especially in low-income neighborhoods where people depend on public transportation.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.