Tolono says no to low cost senior housing

by Noah Srajek

The Tolono Village Board voted on May 1 to decline to rezone the property at North Central and River Road. The Champaign County Housing Authority addressed a number of Tolono residents’ concerns regarding the agency’s senior housing project at a public board meeting at the Tolono Police Station. Residents had expressed grave doubts about the addition of affordable housing to their community at a previous meeting on April 24, and the CCHA took the opportunity to put those doubts, and any misconceptions, to rest.  Nonetheless, the location for the project itself remained problematic amongst board members and attendees alike, likely leading to the motion’s defeat.

Trustee Vicki Buffo read a statement at the start of the meeting regarding the community’s vigorous involvement in the previous week’s meeting and the discussion around the senior housing project in general.  “Thank you all for your input in this process.  We have read every email that we’ve gotten, and we’ve listened to every comment.  We very much appreciate your input.  It is vital to this process.”  The board also stressed its continued commitment to being an instrument of service for the people of Tolono.  “In the future we will bring items to you...Your concerns and efforts are important in making Tolono the best village it can be.”

The Interim Director of the CCHA, Cindi Herrera, was present in order to give detailed answers to some of the major concerns that attendees expressed.  The first question of the meeting, and the first bit of misinformation to be corrected, involved whether or not Tolono seniors would be guaranteed a spot in the housing program over the outside residents.  At last week’s Apr. 24 meeting, CCHA representative John Daly had initially stated that units would be granted on a first-come, first-served basis, with no preference for Tolono seniors.  Herrera was quick to set the record straight on this, confirming that, in fact, “a senior living in Tolono would have a preference over anyone else.”  That means that a Tolono senior on the list for the program would always receive the first unit available.  “We want it to be all Tolono residents,” Herrera said.

Herrera also discussed the use of vouchers to occupy these units, addressing a second piece of misinformation from the April 24 meeting that had caused significant concern among residents.  “People with vouchers going around looking for landlords can not come to these properties.”  She went on to explain that the vouchers in question were only ever granted to families, not to senior citizens.  Since the affordable housing initiative would be exclusive to residents over the age of 55, there would be no way for someone with a voucher to claim one of these units.

Herrera also stressed that the initiative does not involve public housing, but that “all of the housing is privately owned by non-profits.”  

A third concern that was rather widespread among attendees of both meetings was the notion that underage relatives, such as grandchildren, might attempt to move in to the senior residences permanently.  The implication was that CCHA would neither be able to monitor nor enforce that all residents in the community remain over 55.  Herrera commented that the affordable housing communities would have a substantial staff of maintenance workers and property managers, part of whose job it is to report any suspicious activity to the Housing Authority.  Families found to have residents under 55 living there will be presented with an eviction notice after two weeks have elapsed.  Herrera stressed that, since the proposed community would only consist of 15 units, compared to many of the 100 plus unit public housing developments to which some residents were referring, monitoring the compliance of residents would be significantly easier than in most circumstances.

A number of attendees of the May 1 meeting, themselves residents of another CCHA affordable housing community called Tolono Manor, shared their perspective on the initiative.  They eased the concerns of other residents, saying, “We live in one of these property complexes.  We don’t have anyone coming to live with us, we don’t have any criminals.”  

Tolono Manor is made up of 16 individual units, comparable to the 15 units proposed for the new addition.  Tolono Manor is currently full, and all of the residents that attended the meeting were originally from Tolono themselves.

The crucial matter, which was not successfully addressed and remained contentious, was the actual placement of the development.  The proposed location for the neighborhood was the area of North Central and River Road.  The board’s Facebook poll showed that 52.7 percent of responders would want a different site for the initiative.  The board as a whole seemed to share the same opinion, with the primary concern being drainage from the site.  Concern was expressed that Tolono’s already somewhat overburdened sewer system would be placed under significantly more stress with the addition of new subdivisions.  Engineers proposed the implementation of a series of pump stations that would control the flow of the sewage and allow for easier maintenance of and addition to existing infrastructure.  

Nevertheless, the board declined to rezone the property as proposed, effectively halting the implementation of the housing initiative for the foreseeable future. 

Although Herrera was successful in correcting the false information from the April 24 meeting as well as in addressing Tolono residents’ major concerns, it appears that the board considered the level of disturbance that the proposal caused within the community, as well as their infrastructure concerns, reason enough to halt the program.  In any case, residents will be satisfied to feel that their voices, and the ardent outcry of those opposed, undoubtedly played a deciding role in the board’s choice.



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