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Photo by Jordan Crook

Mike Davis, Central Illinois Land Bank Authority Executive Director, speaks to the Hoopeston City Council Tuesday night.

Mike Davis, Central Illinois Land Bank Authority Executive Director, outlined his hopes to create a program aimed at providing funding for home repairs in the area during Tuesday’s Hoopeston City Council meeting.

Davis started out by outlining how work is proceeding on the vacant and dilapidated houses the land bank plans on demolishing in Hoopeston.

Davis said the first four houses in the demolition project, which is funded with grant money, have been tested for asbestos and the demolition bids will be issued in a few weeks.

Davis expects the demolition of the first four houses will be completed by the end of August.

He said the first four houses are located at: 406 Front St., 801 Wyman, 305 S. Second Ave. and 411 W. Penn.

Davis said two of the other properties that are a priority for the city are 210 E. Washington and 520 Honeywell, the burned out mansion.

He said the land bank’s legal team has put together an abandonment petition to go to court. Once the summons are issued to the property owners, Davis said they would then move the petition through the court.

Davis said there will be two properties available in the fall through the Vermilion County Tax Trustee, 406 E. Thompson and 908 W. Washington, that are both unoccupied and abandoned that the land bank will look to acquire for demolition as well.

Davis said the project has a $125,000 grant from the state, a $100,000 grant from the Hoopeston Retirement Village Foundation and a $50,000 commitment from the City of Hoopeston to use to address dilapidated and abandoned houses.

He said, if the demolitions cost, on average, $15,000, then his hope is to do at least 15 demolitions in Hoopeston. Ideally, he said, they would do 20 if the money allows.

Since they have the first eight houses lined up for demolition, Davis said they need to start lining up the next eight.

He said city officials need to prioritize the next list of seven or eight properties that they want to see addressed.

Davis said the next step for the project would probably be to do fast-track demolitions.

He said these have been done frequently in Tilton and, if the property is abandoned and in bad enough shape to be a health hazard, the city would just have to go to court and get permission to knock it down. He said the court gives them 120 days, the city demolishes the property, puts a lien on it and, ideally, they just foreclose on the lien to get title.

“My hope is to knock it out of the park on demolitions and, hopefully, we get around 15 to 20 done over the next year or so,” he said.

But Davis made it clear that he doesn’t just want to focus on knocking down houses in Hoopeston, he wants to help repair them.

Davis made it clear that the land bank has no record of doing rehabs on houses in need of repair.

He said there is funding available for home rehabilitation projects through the state, but the challenge is that, if an agency doesn’t have experience with home rehabs, then getting the funding is very difficult.

He said the program would be focused on providing funding for low- and moderate-income homeowners.

Davis said it could be a rehab of up to $50,000 per property and it’s meant to address code issues and life and safety issues.

He said the max they could apply for would be $550,000, but the challenge is that DCEO (Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity) wants to see that a pipeline is ready to do more houses in the future once a grant is issued.

Davis said they’d want to see a pipeline of 30 households that would technically be eligible for the funding.

He said they would have to market the program to the entire community, such as sending out marketing material through their water department.

Davis said they would need to market the program and survey the community to find what households really need the help.

He envisions the program as being aimed at senior couples living on a fixed-income in a home that has need of a new roof.

Davis said the program would cover installing a new roof, siding and porch replacements.

Davis plans on going to Vermilion and Champaign county’s boards and request $500,000 of their stimulus money to build a homeowner-occupied rehab program.

“My hope is we’re going to build this program out regardless of whether we get the DCEO grant,” he said.

Davis said he wants to have a model land bank community where they can really knock it out of the park and his hope is that Hoopeston would be that community.

Davis said the grant is due Aug. 7, he has a month and a half to market the program, survey residents and identify up to 30 households that would be a good fit for the grant.

He said he will be looking for help from the city, community organizations and the citizens of Hoopeston to make that happen.

“We’re going to need all the help we can get surveying the community and getting out there to find what homes might be the best candidates,” he said.

Davis said Tuesday’s discussion was just an informational session, if the council was interested in the program, he would need to return at the next meet to officially present it to the council.

The council was open to the idea of the program and several council members said they would be willing to help with surveying households in their wards to see which ones might fit with the program.

Davis said the council would also have to pass a resolution to accept the funding if they are approved.

Davis also pointed out that the money from DCEO is for non-entitlement communities.

He said entitlement communities are larger cities that already receive funding for these programs.

Davis said he hopes to build a program where, if they can build track record with the stimulus money from the counties, they can go to DCEO one year for $500,000 and go to IHDA (Illinois Housing Development Authority) for another $500,000 the following year.

“And just keep on doing it over and over and over again,” he said. “Once you build a track record there’s a boatload of money we can go after, it’s just building that initial track record.”

In an unrelated discussion, representatives from the Save the Pool committee spoke about the great start the pool has had this summer.

Valarie Hinkle, speaking for the committee, outlined what the committee has done thus far to get the pool opened this year.

“We located lifeguard candidates, trained and certified 17 of them, to include three managers and a swim lesson instructor. We advertised and continue to advertise the pool along with all the services it provides such as adult swim, specialty nights, and various lessons and we continue to communicate through a Facebook page. We provided over 80 volunteer hours to renovate the bath-house with ADA bathrooms, new paint, and updated fixtures. This support continues with special thanks to Silver Bros., Dogtown Heating, Air and Plumbing for reducing overall costs of bathroom renovations, as well as David Webber for the mural, Bill Goodwine and St. Anthony’s Youth Group.”

Hinkle also thanked the city for working with the committee.

“We want to thank our city for the coordination, cooperation, and work of the water department and its personnel, especially Steve Baker and the city, Dawn Layden in getting the pool physically ready for the season and working with the Water Dept. Subcommittee for hiring new staff.”

Hinkle pointed to some of the highlights from the pool thus far this summer.

She said they had record-breaking season pass sales for opening day with 58 season passes and more than $8,000 on the first day of opening, according to Dawn Layden and 234 attendees at the pool on opening weekend.

Hinkle added that $1,200 in additional passes have sold since opening day as it continues to grow daily with 172 patrons at the pool this past Sunday.

She said the revenue generated by season passes in 2019 was $2,960.

Hinkle said they have also received $2,400 with another $1,000 being pledged in fundraising through donations and Subway card sales with the Hoopeston Subway.

She said swim lessons had 24 students sign-up for the first session alone and swim lesson spots were full in the first and second week with people scheduled out to July 21 for swim lessons.

Hinkle said the group plans on focusing on fundraising for future efforts to draw people to the pool.

“We will now focus our efforts on fundraising for further pool improvements, to include pool activities, a slide, and ADA stairs in the event the grant is denied. So, moving forward, the committee would like approval from the council to host a fundraising event in the form of a Luau on Aug. 7 at the pool. It will be a family affair. Tickets will include a catered, roast pork meal, a DJ, T-shirt, and optional swimming. All food related items, tables, and activities will take place in front of the pool building and not within the fence, however, swimming, music and activities, games, will also take place within the pool area.”

Alderwoman Lourdine Florek, who was appointed mayor pro temp in the absence of Mayor Bill Crusinberry, said the committee didn’t need council approval to host the Luau.

While the committee presented the successes they’ve seen, they also asked the council to consider some of the issues they’ve had this season.

April Jones, another member of the pool committee, raised the concern that the pool’s water fountain remained off.

While the pool does sell bottled water for $1 a bottle, Jones pointed out that many of the children who use the pool don’t have money with them to purchase it and having the fountain available would be helpful.

Florek said the fountain will likely remain closed due to concerns about COVID-19.

Jones also raised a central issue that the pool has faced this season: the prohibition of outside food or drinks being brought into the pool.

Jones said she has had to tell several pool patrons that they couldn’t bring food items into the pool due to the rules that have been put into place.

Florek said these rules were put into place because of concerns about food and drink materials getting into the pool’s systems and damaging them.

Jones said she understood the reasoning behind not allowing food and drinks around the pool, but asked the council if they could be allowed in a specific area of the pool that have picnic tables set up and is a sufficient distance from the pool itself.

She said they could make it so pool patrons could only eat in the areas during the specific hourly 15-minute breaks so that pool staff could be there to ensure that leftover trash is disposed of and the pool area is kept clean.

Jones said the prohibition on outside foods being allowed in the pool has caused several issues for patrons who have brought food and drinks to the pool with the expectation of eating there.

Additionally, she said it’s caused issues with trash being left in the parking area of the pool and on the benches in front of the pool.

Jones had hoped that the council would approve the change during the meeting and Alderwoman Kellie Ferrell did make a motion to approve it, but Florek said they couldn’t vote on it during the meeting since it wasn’t listed as an action item on the meeting agenda.

This did cause some conflict between members of the Save the Pool Committee and the council with Kim Burch, another member of the committee, expressing her feelings that the city committee that handles the pool wasn’t being supportive of the volunteer efforts of the Save the Pool Committee.

Burch asked what the Save the Pool Committee needed to do to get the proposed rule change to the council for approval.

Florek, who heads the city committee that oversees the pool, said that the city committee would meet and make a recommendation on the matter to the council at the next meeting.

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