Mt. Morris housing development with disability supports backed by IHDA

Kreider Services, Village of Progress’ Hill Street Neighborhood project will ‘flip the script’ on disability housing

Village of Progress Executive Director Brion Brooks talks to the Mount Morris Planning Commission on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, about the proposed Hill Street Neighborhood, which would provided housing for developmentally disabled and low-income people.

MT. MORRIS — A proposed Mt. Morris neighborhood dedicated to providing disabled residents who require support services the opportunity to live alongside those without disabilities earned Illinois Housing Development Authority-backing to the tune of $8 million.

The Hill Street Neighborhood is the brainchild of Village of Progress and Kreider Services, organizations that serve people with developmental disabilities based in Oregon and Dixon, respectively. The multiphase project, which will be located in Mt. Morris’ northeast corner, is expected to cost about $10 million.

“Most people with disabilities, they’re not looking for anything exceptional; they just want to be able to live an ordinary life,” Village of Progress Executive Director Brion Brooks said. “What we’re trying to do with Hill Street is give them that opportunity.”

The Hill Street Neighborhood will contain 12 one- and two-bedroom duplexes, half of which will be for individuals with developmental disabilities and half of which will be low-income housing. There also will be a community center and a 4-acre public park on the subdivision’s east side.

Many disabled people don’t get to live in an integrated neighborhood where those with disabilities live next door to those without, Brooks said.

“All the things that most people in most neighborhoods take for granted, a lot of people with disabilities have never had the chance to experience,” he said, pointing to things like being a renter or homeowner, caring for property, planting a personal garden or having a cookout as examples.

If all goes well, there’s room to construct more housing around the initial buildings, Brooks said.

Phase 2 would be a mix of market-based and subsidized housing built on the original 16.97-acre parcel, he said. The third phase would be constructed on a 5.86-acre lot directly to the left of the main parcel and contain predominately market-based housing with a small amount of supportive housing, Brooks said.

On April 19, the IHDA Board voted to award the project $8,022,497 under Round X of the agency’s Permanent Supportive Housing Development Program.

The IHDA is an independent, self-supporting agency created by the state Legislature in 1967 to finance affordable housing across Illinois by leveraging state and federal resources with private sector investments.

With the IHDA funding in hand, the Village of Progress and Kreider Services must find another $1- to $2 million, which they expected, Brooks said.

They’ve met with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago and feel there’s a good chance of getting the cash from there, Kreider Services Executive Director Jeff Stauter said. There also are other grants and partnerships they’ve been exploring as potential revenue sources, he said.

Hill Street Neighborhood was one of 14 developments that received funding totaling more than $123 million on April 19, according to an April 29 IHDA news release. The developments contain 392 units of affordable housing integrated with flexible support services, according to the release.

“The Permanent Supportive Housing Development Program was created to increase the community-based housing options available to vulnerable populations and those leaving institutional settings,” according to the release.

While not the largest project the IHDA funded, the Hill Street Neighborhood probably is the most unique, Stauter said.

It’s an experiment they anticipate will go well overall, but also expect will surprise them along the way, he said.

“I bet if you talk to us in two years or three years, we’d be like, ‘Whoa, we didn’t see that coming. This is better than we thought it would be,’ or ‘This is worse,’” Stauter said. “It’s very exciting from the aspect that we don’t know anybody doing this, and that’s pretty cool.”

Local support

On Dec. 12, Mt. Morris Village Board members unanimously voted to provide an official letter of support for the Hill Street Neighborhood. On Jan. 23, they unanimously voted to rezone the land on which the Hill Street Neighborhood will be located from I-1 Light Industrial to R-2 Multi-Family Residential, and to approve a special-use permit for a community center and a conditional-use permit for the park.

The zoning change and permits are contingent upon the project getting state funding and on Kreider Services and Village of Progress’ purchase of the property.

The property where the Hill Street Neighborhood would be is owned by David Luepkes, who uses it for farming. Luepkes wrote a letter, dated Nov. 22, 2023, expressing his support of the project and willingness to sell the land once the IHDA fully approves it.

“The village of Mt. Morris has been very supportive and positive through the whole process,” Stauter said. “I think they see it as a differentiating thing for their town.”

Flipping the script

Unlike most disability housing, Hill Street Neighborhood puts disabled residents in a position to choose where they live, which support provider they want, what services they need, when they need them and how they’re delivered, Stauter said.

The way it works now is, if someone gets funding to live in a group home, the service provider owns the home and provides the services there, he said. If someone doesn’t want that service provider, they have to leave the home and find somewhere else to live, Stauter said.

That won’t be the case in the Hill Street Neighborhood, which is “an important and empowering difference in this than most disability housing,” he said.

“It flips the script, which is just so long overdue,” Brooks said.

A decade ago, it was extremely difficult to get the Illinois Department of Human Services to think flexibly about support services for people, he explained.

“DHS had 24/7 supports or they had what was called intermittent supports, and even the intermittent supports had to meet pretty strict guidelines – not less than this many hours, not more than that many,” Brooks said.

That has changed over the last few years, with DHS recognizing more and more that support works best when tailored to the needs of individuals, Brooks said. That flexibility and change in mindset helped as a catalyst to make Hill Street Neighborhood become a reality, he said.

“We’re moving into a new territory where we’re going to say, ‘You know what, you find your house, we’ll provide your supports and we’ll provide them there,’” Stauter said.

It’s a system that will require Kreider Services, Village of Progress and any other interested service providers to compete for a client’s business, he said, noting that that kind of competition is healthy and good for the clients.

To keep the playing field even, Hill Street Neighborhood will be run by a yet-to-be-created nonprofit, Stauter said. The new nonprofit will have its own board of directors, keeping it separate from Kreider Services and the Village of Progress, he said.

“You’re always surprised at how, when you just take what seems like a small step forward, how it could have an outsized impact on people’s lives,” Brooks said. “When I was sitting at the [April 19] IHDA meeting, that’s what really comes to me. The outsider looks at these projects and says, ‘It’s just money that’s being spent on housing,’ but to the person that gets the housing, it’s personal. It changes lives.”

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner reports on Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties for Shaw Media out of the Dixon office. Previously, she worked for the Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Michigan, and the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.