At a Glance
Developing affordable public housing
When architect Jim Alpi began working for the Decatur Housing Authority in 1984, he planned to stay for one project, then leave. After 28 years, he’s still with the organization, which provides quality affordable housing to more than 2,700 low- and moderate-income individuals—including the young, elderly, and disabled—in Macon County, Illinois.
“I joined Decatur Housing Authority because it was a dynamic, growing organization doing some exciting things, but I stayed, in part, because it felt like I was making a public contribution,” says Alpi, who is now director of capital projects. “In the beginning we only served very low-income people, and were often seen as housing of last resort. Now we are developing desirable affordable housing for people of all income levels and redeveloping our community.”
Alpi also likes the variety of projects he works on at the Decatur Housing Authority, which receives funding from HUD to own and manage public-housing units of all types, from scattered single-family houses to high-rise apartments. Its portfolio currently consists of one special-needs apartment building, three senior high-rises, 25 single-family townhomes, 50 senior garden apartments, and 131 single-family homes and duplexes.
The organization also offers 1,123 housing vouchers that help low-income families access the private rental market. Voucher holders select a unit from the private rental market within Macon County and pay no more than 30 percent of their gross income for rent, the Decatur Housing Authority subsidizing the balance. These individuals are also eligible for assistance with utilities.
Often, the organization simply completes projects through good financing, as was the case with the Wabash Crossing mixed-income development about three blocks from downtown Decatur. The project, developed by Chicago-based East Lake Management & Development Corp. and constructed by CORE Construction Services of Illinois, consisted of 471 rental apartments (as well as 157 single-family homes) built via a private-public partnership anchored by a $34.8 million Hope VI grant that the Decatur Housing Authority received from HUD.
“We provided up-front loans that would allow the developer to construct 203 rentals that would be leased for at least 40 years to folks who would qualify for our public-housing program,” Alpi says. “The remaining units are financed by the developer and are rented to higher-income tenants.”
The Decatur Housing Authority also provided ownership assistance for some of the single-family homes. Applicants had to be first-time home buyers earning less than 80 percent of the Decatur area’s median family income. Those who were accepted could choose from among seven three-bedroom designs ranging in size from 1,200 to 1,440 square feet. Single-family homes were also available at a discount, thanks to forgivable loans. Home prices started around $111,000, Alpi says, but with subsidies provided to eligible applicants, the same locations could go for as little as $77,000.
According to Alpi, Wabash Crossing perhaps illustrates best the appeal of working for a smaller public-housing authority. “In a larger city, such as Chicago or even New York, you serve a larger community in a variety of neighborhoods,” he says. “Since we’re bound to do things within city limits, … we only serve a population of 78,000, but that allows us to really see the difference we make. The Wabash Crossing project, for example, covers about 20 blocks near the heart of the city, so its impact is very positive.” ABQ