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A pair of decades-old public housing complexes in Rock Island will be renovated as the housing authority continues its quest to change the face of its public housing.

Rock Island Housing Authority and its non-profit affiliate, Community Housing Services, launched a major renovation of its high-rise apartment complex, Sunset Heights, and proposes to tear down — and redevelop — Lincoln Homes. 

"Sunset Heights will be renovated from top to bottom," said spokeswoman Gail Riggins. Construction is underway at the complex at 3130 9th St. Renovations include improvements to the infrastructure, exterior, interior common areas, offices, a new roof and all 141 apartments "are being gutted," she said.

Once the $11 million project is complete, the building will be re-branded TwoRivers Point — a name created from ideas submitted by the authority's staff and Sunset residents.

CHS submitted an application for Low Income Housing Tax Credits to fund the demolition and replacement of Lincoln Homes, a 37-unit complex located at 9th Street and 5th Avenue. Under the proposal, the site would become a single-family row house community of 46 homes. The $11.6 million project is designed to attract working families.

The existing Lincoln Homes, built in 1953, originally included 46 townhouse units in eight buildings, but RIHA previously demolished one of the buildings.

Riggins said the proposed neighborhood community would like nearby Linden Lane development, a project that redeveloped an aging barracks-style Manor Homes public housing project.

"We are trying to build public housing that looks like it needs to today and not how it looked in the '50s or '60s with stack-able cluster housing," said Dave Emerick,  CHS' board president and an RIHA commissioner who is also vice president and loan officer at Black Hawk Bank & Trust. "We want them to be more neighborhood like, more in a design that is complimentary to the surrounding area they are in and a place of safety and efficiency for our residents."

Riggins said today's public housing customer has changed, as well. The authority's properties are attracting young adults, including students or those new to the workforce, and families, single-parent households, veterans, the elderly and disabled. "We attract a lot of working families," she added.

Asset development plan

The Sunset and Lincoln projects stemmed from an asset development plan that RIHA created in 2003. That process led RIHA to do "a physical and financial analysis of each property,"  Riggins said.

Fifteen years into the 20-year plan, the housing authority has improved many of its properties; demolished obsolete ones; and, as it did with several redevelopments, created neighborhoods. Projects have included the demolition of Valley Homes and Manor Homes as well as developments such as Cascade Gardens, a housing complex for people with disabilities, and Douglas Park Place, a housing development that gives preference to families recovering from substance abuse and victims of domestic abuse. Lynden Land replaced Manor Homes. 

"In total, we will have renovated nearly $70 million of property in the city of Rock Island," Riggins said of the past projects and the two newest housing projects.

"Good things going on"

Emerick said the achievements "have allowed our housing developments to become neighborhoods."

"It gives people who live in our properties the feeling that they do belong to the community... and they have a pride of ownership of where they live and the type of citizens they've become," he said.

Rock Island's 1st Ward Alderman Ivory Clark is excited for the Lincoln Homes redevelopment, which builds on a number of recent developments in the neighborhood including a new city park, a housing project by Rock Island Economic Growth Corp., or Growth, major renovations to the city-owned Martin Luther King Center and improvements at the Second Baptist Church.

"People are going to be more likely to buy houses in that area and to improve their homes due to the good things going on with the city, Growth and the housing authority," he said.

Clark also believes the improvements will spread outside his west-side ward. "I think all the under-developed properties will be brought up in Rock Island. In Rock Island, we've always had a sense of pride... (residents) just wanted to see the city come along and show they care and they've done that in the last few years," the fifth-year alderman said.

Sunset Heights conversion

As part of Sunset's renovation, the housing authority also has converted Sunset Heights from a public housing program to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 Project-Based Voucher program known as a Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD, program, Riggins said. "It changes the pot of money the subsidy comes out of," she said.

Under the RAD program, Brooks said RIHA has more flexibility to leverage public and private debt to make the capital improvements. At the same time, it allows the units to remain affordable.

"Congress has been de-funding the public housing program for decades, so it is a more unstable program," she said. Funding for ongoing maintenance, renovation and construction of public housing has been dwindling for decades, and Section 8 funding has been stable.

"In the long-term, it makes sense to make this conversion," she said.

She said the authority looked at the RAD program for many of its facilities, but Sunset Heights made the most fiscal sense.

Since 2016, RIHA has been vacating parts of Sunset through attrition. As residents have moved out, units were left empty, ultimately vacating the equivalent of three floors last year that could be worked on at one time.

In addition, the remaining residents are not being displaced during the renovation. Between 90 and 110 people are living in Sunset, but "it will get back up to full" when the project is done, Riggins added.

As floors are completed, residents will be relocated to the remodeled floors.

Russell Construction is the project's general contractor and SE Clark & Associates is the developer. The project is funded by HUD, Alliant Capital - Newport Partners, RIHA and the Illinois Housing Development Authority.  

Lincoln Homes cluster

The plans for Lincoln Homes, were outlined in the asset management plan and the city's New Old Chicago development plan in 2006.

"The idea is we've renovated in a cluster and Lincoln Homes is the last piece," she said of the new housing, renovations, new park and other improvements in the neighborhood.

Clark, who purchased one of the new Growth homes, said he is excited none of the Lincoln residents will be forced to move. "They will be temporarily displaced (during construction), but in the future they will have a better place to call home." 

According to Riggins, RIHA expects to complete Sunset's renovation by the end of the year, and then will begin tearing down Lincoln Homes.

It was the same process for Manor Homes when it was converted to Lynden Lane, she said. While Valley Homes was not redeveloped, relocation of those residents led to a boost in homeownership, she said. About 46 percent of the 102 residents at Valley Homes purchased a home.

Emerick and Riggins said RIHA is continuing to look at other housing needs, including those of its senior population.

Last year, the authority studied the availability and needs of senior housing.  There appears to be an adequate number of market-rate senior housing available and an adequate amount of deeply subsidized, she said, but a gap in the middle. 

"We're achieving the goals of our asset management plan — we're not too far from getting more checked off the list," Emerick said. "But there's still some other items we want to address."

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