Planning Commission approves community building for complex

Subsidized apartments earned safety award last year

By BETH ALTENA

Despite much discussion about parking, Rockford’s Planning Commission approved plans to build a community building at Hillview Townhomes Thursday, October 25. The apartment complex, located on the north side of Division Street east of the intersection of Wolverine Boulevard, is zoned R-3 high density residential and is bounded by residentially zoned properties on three sides and commercial on the west. It is a mutli-family residential development.

This summer the complex partnered with Rockford Rotary and Rockford Public Schools with a reading and studies program that was very successfully attended by children of the complex. The programs took place in a basement room designated for community events with only about 200 feet of space. A spokesperson for Hope Network, which owns the complex, said the success of the program almost lead to embarrassment because there wasn’t enough room for the kids who wanted to participate. “They were crammed in and spilling out of both entrances, and if it rained, we just forgot about it,” he said.

Another reason to construct a free-standing community building is to house the complex’s office, currently in one of the two-bedroom townhomes. Moving the offices to part of the community room would free up that unit for a family. The 136-unit complex has a waiting list of years for the subsidized housing.

Planning Commissioners heard the complaints and concerns of one neighbor to the complex, who said she was sure there would be problems with loud gatherings and parking issues. She asked for a guarantee that no second access drive to the apartments would be constructed. She also wanted to know who was funding the construction and how much would be charged for use of the building. Commissioner Jim Scales responded repeatedly that these concerns were not zoning questions and therefore not questions the board should respond to.

The Hope Network representative stated that the complex residents and staff and the Rockford Police have a very good relationship and that security cameras would be in place should any incidents occur. City Manager Michael Young said he believed this was a good opportunity and that the police think this will be an improvement. He said historically there have been no concerns with parking.

If built under today’s requirements, each unit would have to have two parking spaces, and currently there are 1.7 parking spaces for 136 units or 238 parking spaces total. There is also a basketball court, which could be used for overflow parking. The Hope Network spokesperson said many of the residences are in use by a single parent with children, so there is often only one driver and one vehicle. In addition, some of the residents don’t own any vehicles and rely on the Hope Network bussing system for transportation.

Hillview Townhomes manager Suzanne Hewitt recently spoke about the complex during a Rockford Rotary meeting. She said in the Rockford School District there are over 1,400 students in a challenged, low income home situation. Rockford has seen an increase in the free and reduced lunch from 5 percent of the student body to over 18 percent in recent years.

“The maximum income these residents earn is the only thing that separates them from any other apartments,” she stated. Residents cannot earn more than $12,500 annually to qualify for residency there. She said the complex is a mix of one and two bedroom apartments with a wide variety of residents. There are five women over the age of 99, 95 males below the age of 18, 91 children in grades five or under. Of those ages 16 to 25, are included 13 high school students, two residents with GEDs, and two college students.

Hewitt said residents are usually well-behaved. “The reason why people come to Hillview is because they need affordable rent. They better get along with their neighbors because they both need to be here.” She said the location of Hillview is the reason it is much sought after, because all services are represented at the location. It is a safe family community with a good school district and access to many services nearby.

Many residents at the complex represent familial poverty rather than generational poverty, Hewitt said. She explained familial poverty is when the parents were in a strong middle class situation, but the younger generation is struggling. She said many are the working poor with jobs in manufacturing, cosmetology, telemarketing, cleaning, and health services.

Hillview apartment complex is actually often a tight knit community, Hewitt explained, a place where residents share resources, share childcare, share a car. “This is so cool,” she said. “Sharing used to mean borrowing half a cup of flour. This is more sharing than that.”

Hewitt also said people often assume those struggling financially aren’t fit and active. She said there is a nice park on the complex which is very well used by the children. “They run and play, they are fit. They are not obese.” She said over the years there have been only a handful of students with weight issues, and those were kids who were very withdrawn.

There are only ten families on public assistance at the complex at the time Hewitt talked before the Rotary club. She said those ten families have the same pride as any other family and do not want to be on assistance. Thirty-six of the households are people living on pensions.

Hewitt has been with Hope Network 16 years and has seen lots of changes over that span of time. She said state assistance now cuts out after four years. ”The state has said very recently, enough is enough, we are weaning you.” She said people are more aware today that help is available and are less likely to wait until they get an eviction notice to seek assistance.

“I see more employment happening,” she stated. She also noted a change in the make-up of residents, including more adult children with a parent, mothers with grown kids. She said she sees more opportunities for educational improvement, not so much bachelor degrees but associate degrees which lead to better employment and better quality of life.

The Planning Commission voted to approve the community building with the agreement that if parking issues arise, Hope Network will be cooperative in working out solutions. The building will be constructed on what now is an island in the entrance of the complex. The structure will be 1,725 feet and will include lighting and landscaping.

 

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