Focused on changing the face of public housing, the Rock Island Housing Authority unveiled its latest project Wednesday — a new $13 million complex designed to serve residents with special needs and their families.

Cascade Garden, located on more than nine acres at 2739 9th St., opened its doors with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The 70-unit facility, made up of three two-story buildings, is a project of Community Housing Services, the housing agency’s nonprofit affiliate.

More than 50 people gathered in the spacious community room to celebrate the project’s completion as well as the many partners who made the project a reality. Housing officials from Rock Island, the state of Illinois and Washington, D.C., were joined by community leaders, legislators and future residents for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Among the guests was Sandra Henriquez, a top official with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

“This is an important day for your city,’’ said Henriquez, HUD’s assistant secretary for public and Indian housing. She hailed the project as an example of “what a community can do when it pulls together for the citizens.”

“It took a long time, but I congratulate you on your stick-to-it-ness to see it through,’’ she told the crowd.

The project was developed by Community Housing Services in partnership with Express Development Inc. and Tyson & Billy Development LLC.

Susan Anderson, the housing authority’s executive director, admitted that the project “was a challenge.” First identified as a need in 2003 during the agency’s asset management planning process, she said actual planning for Cascade Garden did not begin until about six years ago.

“This housing is unique affordable housing in that it gives preference to families with a disability,” she said. Anderson said the need for such housing was evident when more than 400 people applied to lease the 70 available units. At least one resident in the household must have a disability.

The Robert Young Center, an affiliate of Trinity Regional Health System, will provide supportive services, including case management, for the residents with disabilities.

The complex has eight two-bedroom units, 46 one-bedroom units and 14 three-bedroom units as well as a community room with a full kitchen, library and computer lab. It also will boast plenty of greenspace.

Anderson said the project was in the works when the economy took its downturn.

“We were awarded tax credits … but then we couldn’t sell them because they weren’t worth anything,” she said, recalling how the project was revived by President Barack Obama’s Recovery Act. Cascade Garden received $8.7 million in federal stimulus funding.

Mary Kenney, the Illinois Housing Development Authority’s executive director, said she first read the project’s proposal in 2006.

“Here you are five years later, and you’ve finally hit the finish line,” she said, also crediting the stimulus funding.

She added that under Gov. Pat Quinn, the federal housing stimulus dollars have created 5,500 affordable housing units statewide as well as 4,855 jobs, including 30 in Rock Island.

Henriquez applauded the Rock Island Housing Authority and the city of Rock Island for realizing a long time ago that “you don’t put people in high-rise housing and cookie-cutter apartments. Just because they’re poor doesn’t mean they should live differently than their other neighbors.”

Rock Island has been a leader in “reinventing public housing to look like the rest of the community they are situated in,” she added.

For some of the future residents, Cascade Garden is a dream come true.

Holding back tears, Bobbie Grace spoke to the crowd about the opportunity to move into a brand new complex. She and her daughters, Titania Steward, 18, and Teanna Steward, 13, will move next month from Rock Island’s Century Woods. “This opportunity means the world to me and my girls.”

Thanking all those who made the project possible, she said, “When I walked into a three-bedroom unit, I thought I had walked into a mansion. I just knew in my heart I was going to be chosen to live here.”

Funding sourcesOf the $13 million invested to build Cascade Garden, $8.7 million came from stimulus funded programs.


The funding sources included: 

* Illinois Housing Development Authority

* U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

* First Midwest Bank

* Grant funding: Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Moline Foundation, Rauch Family Foundation and Trinity Foundation.

Rents will range from $324 to $787 depending on the size of unit and the resident’s income. For leasing information, call (309) 283-2299.