HUD’s heavy hand behind Rockford, IL, legal battle and Rejections of $28 million in Grants
The collection of articles below document the short history of how HUD has facilitated, rather is the root cause of this current legal battle. The publications below consist of excepts with links provided to the complete stories, but you’ll quickly get the idea. “:)”
Rockford Housing Authority buys land off Rockford’s East State Street for housing, May 15, 2015
The Rockford Housing Authority just bought land on the city’s east side. The sale solidifies that the housing agency is ready to move forward with its latest proposal for Fairgrounds Valley, despite its mixed reception at city hall.
Rockford Housing Authority isn’t playing around: It wants to tear down Fairgrounds Valley. RHA wants to demolish the more than 200 units on the city’s west side. It wants to rebuild some of the units on the same site and put about 70 mixed family housing units just off East State Street on New Towne Drive. A similar proposal already went before City Council and a majority of the alderman opposed it.
The following illustration is from HUD’s Data and Mapping tool for showing race and ethnicity:
The following arial views are from Google maps:
(shortlink http://bit.ly/1oNmZ25) or
Proposed moving from the above west of the city location to the suburbs below.
UPDATE: Civil Debate Over Proposed Housing Complex, Jun 29, 2015
ROCKFORD (WIFR) — A week and a half ago 500 angry New Towne neighborhood residents crammed into a hot gym for a heated discussion over plans to build a 67-unit low income housing complex near their East side homes. Tonight’s RHA
The New Towne Development is the first of three phases of the Fairgrounds redevelopment progress and it involves just under a third of the current residents under the proposal the other two thirds of the Fairgrounds population will either be transferred to existing housing scattered throughout Rockford or move to another new planned development just east of the current Fairgrounds location.
Rockford City Council would need to approve the Fairgrounds redevelopment plan before any new low income housing projects can be built.
- ROCKFORD (WIFR) — With many neighbors in fear of crime and depreciating property value, the Rockford Housing Authority has scheduled a town hall meeting for its plan to build a 70-unit public housing on New Towne Drive on Rockford’s east side.
- UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) — Hundreds are expected to rally against a proposed East-side government housing complex and now a Rockford aldermen says that plan needs to change.
More than 2,000 people say they do not want the complex to move into the land across from the former New Towne post office and on Thursday they’ll have the chance to put a voice and face behind their petition signature.
Alderman Joseph Chiarelli says he speaks for the more than 2,200 in his ward who signed petitions against the development of a Rockford Housing Authority complex and he will be presenting a counter offer at a meeting tomorrow.
- UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) – It was one of the most heated town-hall style meetings we’ve seen in years.
Rockford’s mayor heckled by crowd members, police nearby to calm angered neighbors, people shouting in anger from their seats, it’s just a glimpse of a meeting at Gregory Elementary School where hundreds are voicing their concerns.
- ROCKFORD (WIFR) – The Rockford Housing Authority president says he had trouble sleeping thinking about last night’s meeting where hundreds bashed a plan to bring government housing to Rockford’s east side.
Many in a crowd that spilled out into the hallway opposed a proposal from Gorman and Company and the Rockford Housing Authority to build under 60 units on South New Towne Drive.
Gorman wants to reshape plans for housing on New Towne Drive in Rockford, Jul. 14, 2015
“HUD has made it very clear that we don’t have the choice as a municipality to do nothing. This is the direction the country is going and we are at ground zero,” Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said about public housing after Gorman & Company withdrew its proposal for New Towne Drive on Tuesday, July 14, 2014.
Gorman planned to build a 65-apartment complex on 6 acres of land with 88 percent of the units set aside for low-income residents. The development is part of a partnership with the Rockford Housing Authority to overhaul public housing in the city. One of the goals of the project was to reduce the number of residents packed into Fairgrounds Valley housing complex, where about 650 adults and children live in 210 apartments. Residents near the New Towne neighborhood fought the proposal, raising concerns that the project would lower property values and increase crime. Others said the move did not do enough to meet the Housing Authority’s goal of spreading out concentrations of public housing.
Refer here to Exhibit, see HUD letter: New Towne Development 08-03-2015 Civil Rights Concerns
HUD voices concern over fair housing access in Rockford, Aug. 12, 2015
ROCKFORD — The city of Rockford and the Rockford Housing Authority could be found in violation of federal fair housing laws if the agency doesn’t move forward with plans to relocate residents of public housing to less segregated and less impoverished areas.
Rockford Housing Authority (RHA) CEO Ron Clewer received a letter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, obtained by the Register Star through a Freedom of Information Act request, warning of potential civil rights violations. The letter, written by Maurice McGough of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, explains the agency’s concerns regarding Gorman & Company’s withdrawal of plans for a 65-unit affordable housing development on South New Towne Drive.
Gorman and the Housing Authority had hoped to build the complex to provide housing for about one-third of the residents now living in Fairgrounds Valley, a 210-apartment public housing development on Rockford’s west side.
“Our concern is based on the fact that the decision to withdraw this proposal may have an adverse impact against African-American public housing residents who are currently living in Fairgrounds Valley, and who would have been eligible to relocate to units developed on New Towne Drive,” McGough wrote.
Fair housing laws are intended to prevent housing discrimination in any form on the basis of race, sex and other factors, and to prevent the segregation of poor and minority residents from other parts of the community. More recently, this has included requirements to “affirmatively further” fair housing, which means housing authorities must take active steps to promote desegregation and break up pockets of poverty.
RHA can remedy any potential violations simply by following through on its proposal to revamp 199 units of Fairgrounds housing, Clewer said. If the agency doesn’t use the resources it has in place to redevelop the complex, Clewer said, HUD could find RHA in violation of federal law. RHA is to submit additional plans to HUD by Oct. 1. If the agency fails to do so, Clewer said, he would become more concerned about potential HUD sanctions, which could even include a federal takeover of RHA.
HUD To Rockford City Council Accept Next Housing Project Proposal Or Else, Sep. 01, 2015
The Department of Housing and Urban Developments regional bureaucrat Antino Riley spoke at the Rockford city council meeting Monday night and the jest of it was this, when Gorman’s submits a proposal for its next low income housing project anywhere in the city the city council and others are going to accept it or else.
That else would include a federal investigation because Mr. Riley seems to be caught up on the idea that saying no to a housing project is some kind of civil rights violation. That would in turn put millions in federal dollars at risk including its HUD funds which could include the $2.7 million loan HUD gave Monday to fix up Cliffbreakers.
Developer Gorman’s pulled its plan for a 65-70 unit housing project on New Towne Dr. south of Rockford University(formerly Rockford College), but Rockford Housing Authority officials believe the company will submit a new plan some time soon.
Refer here to exhibit, see HUD letter: Rockford, IL Civil Rights Compliance Review, 11-12-2015
HUD to Rockford City Council Accpet Next Housing Project or Else, Sep. 01, 2015
Rockford aldermen may lawyer up for New Towne investigation, Dec. 14, 2015
ROCKFORD — Aldermen may hire lawyers to advise them on a pending federal fair housing investigation surrounding plans for a private 49-unit affordable housing development on South New Towne Drive.
The Finance & Personnel Committee on Monday recommended that the city hire Hinshaw & Culbertson, and Dan Shapiro Law, a Chicago boutique real estate and commercial litigation law firm that has a land use, zoning and governmental relations practice.
Ald. Venita Hervey, D-5, who chaired the committee in absence of Ald. John Beck, R-12, said initially the city would spend up to $60,000 to hire the two-firm team. She said she expected that to be enough for four to six weeks of legal work.
“Once we reach that point, that will be a good point to assess to determine what and where we need to go next,” said Hervey.
Illinois State Senator recommends Rockford aldermen vote no to S. New Towne project, Dec. 18, 2015
ROCKFORD (WREX) –
by Joseph Edwards
Illinois State Senator and Rockford resident Dave Syverson announced his strong opposition to the S. New Towne Drive public housing development, saying city aldermen should vote ‘no’ to the proposal.
Syverson published a post on Facebook on Friday, listing three reasons why City Council should vote against the project.
Syverson says clustered housing simply does not work, pointing to previous public housing projects in Rockford as proof. He also says he believes Rockford has more public and low-income housing than any other city of comparable size.
Syverson added that HUD’s investigation into the city’s handling of the proposal shows an overuse of civil rights issues.
“For HUD to insinuate that this is a racial issue just shows how they overplay the race card, which unfortunately then takes away their credibility when real racial issues arises,” Syverson wrote.
The senator finished his post by saying HUD should explain to the courts why they believe in implementing ‘a failed cluster housing program.’
Gorman files lawsuit against Rockford over New Towne plat delay, Jan. 12, 2016
ROCKFORD — Gorman & Company is taking the city to court, claiming aldermen have illegally delayed a proposed east side affordable housing complex.
Legal representatives for the Wisconsin-based developer and Bridge Rockford Alliance filed a civil complaint today against the city and the Winnebago County recorder of deeds.
The complaint claims the city illegally delayed approving the plat — or map and plan for land to be developed — for 6 acres of land on South New Towne Drive, which Bridge Rockford owns and on which Gorman plans to build 49 units of affordable housing.
Rockford City Council votes 7-5 to approve New Towne affordable housing plat, Jan. 19, 2016
ROCKFORD — After months of controversy, aldermen voted 7-5 tonight to approve a plat for a 49-unit affordable housing complex on South New Towne Drive.
The vote means the $11.8 million project, proposed jointly by Wisconsin-based developer Gorman & Company and the Rockford Housing Authority, can move forward despite objections from neighbors and opposition from aldermen. Some aldermen said they were against the development, which is expected to open in 2017, but felt compelled to vote yes because it was a legal obligation under state law.
Aldermen Tim Durkee, R-1, Jamie Getchius, R-2, Tom McNamara, D-3, Kevin Frost, R-4, Teena Newburg, I-9, Karen Elyea, D-11 and John Beck, R-12, voted to approve the plat. Aldermen Venita Hervey, D-5, Pam Connell, R-6, Jeanne Oddo, D-8, Frank Beach, R-10 and Joseph Chiarelli, R-14 voted against approving the plat. Ann Thompson-Kelly, D-7, and Linda McNeely, D-13, were absent.
Some council members expressed opposition, even disgust, with the project and how they and neighbors felt blindsided by it when it was presented in June as a 65-unit development. After aldermen pushed back, the developers withdrew that plan and proposed 49 units at the 6-acre site. The development did not require special zoning approval from the City Council because there are fewer than 50 units. Instead, aldermen could only vote on the plat, a site map.
Neighbors are upset by the project, which they believe will lead to an increase in crime and lower property values. Aldermen wanted to slow the process so they could get more information on drainage, parking and other matters involved with the development.
Aldermen hired lawyers from Hinshaw and Culbertson to review their options. On Jan. 4, they exercised an option their counsel said was available to them — delay a vote on the plat until Feb. 1 because the last documents filed by Gorman to support the plat came on Dec. 1.
Gorman sued the city last week seeking a judge’s approval, even though aldermen said Gorman’s lawyers knew the vote would be moved to Monday. Gorman rejected a request that they give aldermen more time to consider the matter, aldermen said.
“Congratulations, you got a team of lawyers together and you found a loophole in our ordinance,” said Getchius, who said it was unconscionable for the development to have only one parking space per town home.
“This is one of many flaws in this plan,” he said of parking.
Durkee said the good news is that the spotlight is on public housing now and how it is being crafted in the city. But he said clustered housing projects like New Towne don’t work.
Rockford City Council rejects Fairgrounds housing plan, federal grant, Posted Jan. 20, 2016
ROCKFORD — City Council members on Tuesday rejected a public housing plan after saying it didn’t do enough to break up the concentration of poverty on Rockford’s west side.
Aldermen voted 8-2 against chasing a $28 million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant meant to help transform the Ellis Heights neighborhood. The grant included money for redevelopment work within the neighborhood, job training, early education, parent engagement and mentoring, a walking path along Kent Creek, parole reentry programs, a teen center and other improvements. But the biggest sticking point for aldermen was the $7 million that would be dedicated to replacement of the Fairground Valley public housing complex on the city’s west side.
The plan called for the demolition of Fairgrounds and the development of 270 housing units on three sites: the current Fairgrounds land, Newburg Road and New Town Drive. Aldermen felt that it didn’t go far enough to scatter the concentration of poverty. Ninth Ward Ald. Teena Newburg said public housing should be scattered throughout all 14 wards in the city. Fifth Ward Ald. Venita Hervey said the proposal kept poor people stacked together in one area.
“They can very, very quickly become subject to predators who peddle drugs, who peddle prostitution, who prey on children and who create crime and chaos. That’s what I don’t want to see,” Hervey said.
Rockford Housing Authority Executive Director Ron Clewer said the grant money would have helped deconcentrate poverty and housing, as well as bring jobs and neighborhood improvement.
“We agreed about the strategies for jobs, the strategies for people, the strategies for education, the strategies for neighborhood improvement, but the sticking point was public housing — in which we were removing public housing and creating a sustainable form of housing that works throughout our nation,” Clewer said.
Clewer said it was short-sighted to take away the opportunity to bring $28 million to Rockford because of a disagreement over the plans for Fairgrounds, especially with local revenue resources so few and far between.
“We are, at present, stuck with what we have and I don’t think that’s fair to the people that live there and I don’t think it’s fair to the people in this community.”
Mayor Larry Morrissey said he shared the concerns of aldermen about the density of the Fairgrounds replacement plan and would not have approved the development itself. However, he was in favor of moving a grant application forward because he didn’t want to miss out on the chance for federal funding to help in the redevelopment of the neighborhood.
“We may not move the Choice application forward, but we’re going to have to come back to this and deal with ‘what do we do given our options,’ ” Morrissey said.
Clewer said the Fairgrounds replacement plan was not contingent on receiving the grant, but it provided extra money needed to fill the funding gap. He said the replacement of Fairgrounds will have to go forward in several phases.
Neighbors of New Towne affordable housing development sue Rockford, Feb. 23, 2016
by Brian Leaf
ROCKFORD — Neighbors of an approved development on South New Towne Drive have sued the city, alleging that it ignored its own subdivision rules when it authorized a tentative plat map for an affordable housing development.
The city says it complied with the rules.
The suit, filed Thursday by Rockford attorney James M. Hess, asks that a court rule the plat “illegal, unconstitutional and invalid” and that the city rescind authorization for Gorman & Company to build the 49-unit community.
It wants the court to prohibit the city from issuing permits for construction and operation of the development and asks that the city be ordered to pay court costs.
A case management conference has been scheduled for May 18, said Tom Klein, clerk of Winnebago County Circuit Court.
The suit was brought against the city by Abidon Inc., Robert E. Bloom Jr., Don Bondick, Terry D. Siebert and Dennis Van Wormer. Howard Miller of Abidon, which owns New Towne Plaza and East State Antique Mall, said in January he’d sue to stop the project. Miller said he has 70 tenants in his buildings, and some said they wouldn’t renew their leases because of the project.
Patrick Hayes, the city’s legal director, said issues raised in the lawsuit had been addressed publicly by city staff members and attorneys hired by aldermen to advise them on public housing issues.
Approval of the tentative plat by the City Council was “within its lawful authority,” Hayes said.
“As with any lawsuit, the city will have a chance to file its response within 30 days,” Hayes said.
Its options include filing an answer to allegations and asking that the suit be dismissed.
Gorman, the developer working with Rockford Housing Authority to improve 1,100 public housing units, proposed the project last summer. Tenants from Fairgrounds Valley apartments on the city’s west side would be moved to the development, part of the RHA’s plan to deconcentrate poverty in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Fairgrounds would be razed in coming years and downsized from 210 units to a mixed-income community of 50 units.
The New Towne plan met stiff opposition from neighbors and aldermen, who approved the tentative plat — a map that lays out how a site will be developed — in January by a 7-5 vote.
The suit alleges the development will increase traffic congestion, change the residential character of the neighborhood, create a loss of quiet enjoyment and decrease property values.
Andre Blakely, Gorman’s Illinois market president, did not respond to a request for comment today.
Gorman officials said in January they hoped to begin work in March on 6.2 acres along South New Towne Drive. The city has not yet issued a building permit for the project.
“I don’t want them to issue a building permit,” Hess said. “I’m asking that they invalidate the final plat that they issued.”
The suit argues that the tentative plat for New Towne was approved in 1997. In 2007 the city adopted a new subdivision ordinance. It included requirements for submission and approval of plats, including a provision that “conditional approval is valid for one year,” the suit alleges.
“Because the tentative plat was approved more that 10 years ago, it was invalid after January 1998,” the suit said.
“They should have filed a new tentative plat,” Hess said.
The suit also says the plat does not conform with ordinances for off-street parking, for community centers or private clubs, and for storm water.