Economic mobility begins with housing stability. The Decatur City Council must do more to improve where people live
For most Americans, a critical factor influencing economic mobility is housing. Housing stability plays an important role in physical and mental health, educational outcomes, job security, and overall well-being. Furthermore, homeownership is a major source of intergenerational wealth.
Thousands of Decatur residents currently lack housing stability as a result of both historical practices and current factors. As per a map illustrating redlining in Decatur provided by the Central Illinois Land Bank Authority, “banks historically classified 75% of the City’s urban code neighborhoods as ‘declining’ or ‘hazardous’ – which prevented residents of those neighborhoods from obtaining loan to invest in homes.” In Decatur, the number of owner-occupied housing units of 61.8% is below the state (66.3%) and national (64.4%) averages, and in Decatur, 49% of renters face a high-cost burden. With ~11,500 renter-occupied housing units, there are ~5,600 households currently facing high-cost burdens.
Decades of disinvestment combined with currently very high levels of poverty have left thousands of Decatur residents living in neighborhoods with significant levels of blight. Of the 18 neighborhoods within the city’s urban core, 11 have very high levels of blight with blight scores over 0.25 (a blight score represents a probability that a house will have some characteristic of blight such as a broken window, faulty roof, etc. A blight score of 0.25 corresponds with a 1 in 4 probability of a property showing a sign of blight). Furthermore, only 2 of 18 neighborhoods in the urban core have a blight score below 0.1. Multiple studies have verified that as blight is removed, gun violence is reduced, thereby increasing public safety.
At its last meeting, the city council took modest steps to increase housing stability including receiving grants and allocating additional funds including $800,000 for roof replacements, $675,000 for senior living apartments in the former Garfield School, and additional rent and utility assistance for those impacted by COVID-19. However, the amount of money the city council has allocated is still far below what is needed to increase housing stability city-wide. For example, it is estimated that 220 residents require roof replacements, and at $10,000 per replacement, there is currently a need for $2.2 million in roof repairs alone.
Unequivocally, the city of Decatur currently has far more financial resources available to substantially increase housing stability for its residents. One major source of funds could come from American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) funding. These funds are to be used to meet COVID-19 pandemic response needs and to rebuild an economy that is stronger and more equitable. However, the 2023 budget proposes spending $4.7 million in ARP funds for the clarifiers project at the water treatment plant and $3.7 million to the Ellen/Division sewer projects. Both water projects could be paid for by bond proceeds the city received in 2022, and if paid for by bond proceeds, ARP funds would provide an additional $8.4 million for urban core neighborhoods that have been subject to decades of inequitable investment. Reallocation of ARP funds can easily be accomplished by approval from 4 of 7 city council members. Currently, only 2 are receptive.