MORRIS – Local contractor John Latimer retired five years ago, but has spent that time off volunteering his skills to build more of what, he says, Grundy County needs – affordable housing.
“We need more starter homes, stuff that’s 1,200 or 1,500 square feet and suited for a single family,” Latimer said. “If you look, the foreclosure signs are on all of these huge, empty houses.”
Latimer is the former board president and active volunteer for Grundy-Three Rivers Habitat for Humanity, a local organization that builds affordable homes for qualifying families.
The housing need Latimer and other local advocates have perceived within Grundy County is not necessarily reflected in the data from Illinois Housing Development Authority.
According to IHDA, every Grundy County municipality exceeds the state’s “affordable housing requirement” which was set in the Illinois Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act.
The act requires at least 10 percent of each municipality’s total housing units to be classified as “affordable.”
Local housing is considered “affordable” if homebuyers who earn 80 percent, or renters who earn 60 percent, of the regional median income can pay for it, according to the IHDA.
In the Chicago Metro region, which is where Grundy County in placed for the IHDA, an affordable, one-bedroom rental unit would be priced at no more than $828. An affordable, single-family home would be priced at no more than $114,583, according to data used in the IHDA calculations.
In some Grundy County villages, nearly 100 percent of housing is considered affordable by these standards, with Minooka being the least-affordable village at 17.1 percent of housing meeting the act’s requirements.
Although it was the lowest on the list, Minooka has “a range of housing from high-end, multi-family homes to starter homes,” Minooka Administrator Dan Duffy said.
Still, local housing advocates argue that Grundy is in need of truly affordable housing for those thousands of Grundy County residents that live near or below the poverty line.
“There’s absolutely a need for affordable housing in Grundy County. The state threshold is the bare minimum that we needed to meet,” said Brent Newman, CEO of the Grundy County Housing Authority. “Any social services organization will tell you that we still need more affordable housing in Grundy County.”
GCHA provides affordable living spaces for local seniors and people with disabilities, two population groups that statistically have high poverty rates and a greater need for inexpensive housing, Newman said.
The housing authority provides housing at facilities in Morris, Mazon and Gardner.
The national county health rankings – compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute – list Grundy County as one of the worst counties in the state for “severe housing problems.”
Those problems include high housing costs, overcrowding or a lack of certain facilities.
“I’m seeing many factors that are contributing factors to a poor physical environment,” said Phil Jass, administrator for the Grundy County Health Department.
Habitat for Humanity is working to fill the affordable housing gap and is currently building its 11th house in Grundy County, the third home in a Habitat subdivision located in Morris.
“In the area of affordable housing, that people can actually own themselves, there is a great need here,” Habitat for Humanity board president Julie Wilkinson said. “We wish we could build even more houses to help fill that need.”
How affordable is housing in Grundy County?
Illinois Housing Development Authority ranking of Grundy County municipalities based on the percentage of total housing that is considered affordable in each city or village.
• Verona – 92.6 percent
• South Wilmington – 91.3 percent
• Carbon Hill – 87.4 percent
• Braceville – 83.9 percent
• Kinsman – 81.1 percent
• Gardner – 80.3 percent
• Mazon – 72.4 percent
• Coal City – 65.1 percent
• Diamond – 59.4 percent
• East Brooklyn – 53.6 percent
• Morris – 43.9 percent
• Minooka – 17.1 percent
Source: Illinois Housing Development Authority