March 22, 2012

The Housing Gap: Rents on the rise in Champaign, Vermilion counties

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The income of residents in Champaign and Vermilion has not kept pace with the increase of rent and as a result affordable housing is becoming harder to find.

Census data from 2000 and 2010 and recent housing studies shows there are more renters, but that many can’t afford to pay fair market rent. The data and studies also reveal that the number of vacant units has skyrocketed.

“The housing needs haven’t changed. In fact, they’ve gotten worse for the people who need them,” said Thom Pollock, executive director of Crosspoint Human Services.

A comprehensive review of local housing studies, Census data and federal reports show that across Champaign and Vermilion counties shows that between 2000 and 2010, fair market rents for a two-bedroom apartment in the two counties have increased more than 30 percent.

For Champaign County, it’s gone up from about $600 to more than $800 for a two-bedroom apartment. In Vermilion County, it’s increased from about $400 to $600 for a two-bedroom apartment in.

The chart below shows that only whites are more often homeowners than renters in the two counties. All nonwhites more often rent than own a home.Meanwhile, median household income has increased less than 20 percent –  from about $37,600 in 1999 to $45,200 in 2010 in Champaign County and from about $34,200 in 1999 to about $38,200 in Vermilion County

A review of the studies and Census data also shows:

– The number of vacant housing units increased 43 percent between 2000 and 2010, from about 6,200 vacant housing units to nearly 9,000 vacant housing units . In 2000, about 7 percent of nearly 88,400housing units were vacant. In 2010, about 9 percent of 101,600 housing units were vacant.

– Renter-occupied properties increased 20 percent over the past 10 years from 36,200 to 43,200 while owner-occupied properties increased about 8 percent from about 46,000 to nearly 50,000.

– Minorities making up a disproportionate percentage of the renters and are concentrated in areas with low housing value and quality.  While minority groups make up 29 percent of the total population, they make up 35 percent of the renters across the two counties.

Officials from Champaign released a countywide housing study as part a report to the city council in October that looked at housing needs across the county. The study found that nearly 12 percent of the county’s housing stock is substandard and over 10 percent of its households are “overburdened” – meaning households that pay more than 30 percent of income to rent and basic utilities.

“Probably the biggest issue that it pointed to was the lack of affordable housing, rental housing, for extremely low-income people,” said Kerri Spear,  neighborhood programs manager at the City of Champaign . “When you are earning less than 30 percent of the median family income, the ability for you to pay for your market rent in Champaign-Urbana is impossible.”

College students lift prices

Local college students not only drive up the rental price in Champaign-Urbana, but typically get the best pick of rental units in the best condition, Spear said.

“I think what we see here in Champaign-Urbana being a college community is that landlords can charge more because when you bring in two or three college students, each of them technically may be low-income, but they’re usually supported financially living elsewhere, Spear said “ And so, students can obviously pay more.”

The countywide housing study adjusted for the student population when assessing the area’s needs.

“The effect of the student population in both the Cities of Champaign and Urbana is significant.  If left in the housing need numbers, the students would be responsible for overstating need by nearly four times in the City of Champaign and by over twice as much in the City of Urbana,” the report stated.

It added that the housing need is nevertheless still great in those Urbana and Champaign two communities as well as in Rantoul.

The housing study found that the majority of the county’s lowest income population and minority populations are located within Champaign and Urbana, even with the student population removed.

While these two cities grapple with higher housing cost, its neighbor, Danville, also struggles with providing quality affordable housing.

Danville housing lower priced, but substandard

A study by the City of Danville released in September showed that while housing in Danville is “very low-priced … much is in substandard conditions.”

The Danville report states that nearly half of the homes in Danville were built before 1947 and homes built within the past 20 years make up less than 5 percent of the housing stock.

“Old housing stock is in some cases an impediment (to fair housing choices) where city-wide depressed housing values limit reinvestment, maintenance and modernization and make new construction economically impractical,

Darrell Hoemann/The News-Gazette/Barbara Donaldson inside the kitchen of her  home Jan. 31, 2011, at the New Holland apartments in downtown Danville.“Too much of the affordable housing is in substandard condition,” the report stated.

Gloria Thompson-Brown is a housing rights advocate and works to educate low-income residents on their rights and responsibilities.

“Landlords have been lax in keeping their properties up,” Thompson-Brown said. “And when there are residents living in these (properties), if there are problems, they tend to blame it on the residents when landlords should be held more responsible for the upkeep of the properties.”

Over the past decade, Danville lost just over 1 percent of its housing units, according to Census data. Renters make up about 36 percent of Danville’s housing market.

Without residents, though, there is no rental business, Thompson-Brown said.

“They’re the most important commodity in the business,” she said. “So I think they should be treated as such and know that (they) are needed here. And it should be a two-way street.”

New Danville project gets awards

The New Holland apartment complex in downtown Danville is a renovated five-story historic affordable housing project that has garnered several awards for its designs as well as large-scale energy-efficient geothermal system.

“We decided to kind of push the envelope,” said Thom Pollock, executive director of Crosspoint Human Services and president of the New Holland Corp. “We wanted it to be green. We want it to be historically correct, and we wanted it at the end to be affordable for the tenants. And I think we achieved all three.”

The nearly 50 apartments units in the building are subsidized and rents range anywhere 40 percent to 60 percent of fair market rent. Residents cannot make more than 60 percent of the area median income to live at the New Holland.

Barbara Donaldson, 77, moved in to a two-bedroom apartment at the New Holland six years ago.

Once a homeowner, Donaldson had sold her house before moving to Israel.

But a series illness and subsequent operation cut short her plans for a permanent stay in Jerusalem and Donaldson moved home.

“And so, just gradually, I was still working some after that,” she said. “But my strength in the recent years has kind of decreased because I’m not, of course, as you know, as young as I used to be.”

With a depleted savings account and limited income, Donaldson’s housing options were stifled.

“My options would probably be that I would be with one of my children,” she said. “That probably would be about it. Because at this point, at my age and so forth, I’m not able to really make a lot of money.”

Donaldson said she was out hunting for a new place to live when she saw the New Holland and “thought in my heart, this is where I want to be.”

“I love this majestic building,” Donaldson said.

And that is what Pollock hoped to accomplish.

“Affordable housing should be quality housing, safe housing. Something that you and I would like to live in,” he said. “And in this case that’s what we aim to do at the (New Holland) and I think we’ve achieved that.”