ROCHELLE — At its Nov. 8 meeting, the Rochelle City Council heard a presentation on preliminary findings of a Northwest Illinois Workforce Housing study from Daniel Payette of the Blackhawk Hills Regional Council.
Payette said there’s next to a zero percent vacancy rate for residential rental housing in the area and what used to rent for $800 per month is now renting for $1,200 a month and is less affordable. He added that despite current high costs of construction, there is a need for blue collar housing along with senior housing.
Payette said Rochelle has had a lot of focus on industry, but there potentially could be more focus on residential housing.
City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh reacted to the preliminary findings of the study last week and said part of the mayor and city council’s 2018 strategic plan involved more focus on housing and trying to get more people to move to town.
“Part of that is trying to make sure there's enough housing,” Fiegenschuh said. “I found the preliminary part of the study to be very interesting. I do think there's a lot of opportunity to expand housing in Rochelle. I think there's an opportunity for us to collaborate with some of our local developers to maybe do some projects.”
Fiegenschuh said that in his four years as city manager, he’s heard from residents that the city needs more opportunities for housing for all levels of income. He said once final findings of the study are presented that the city will try to put a plan together to improve housing in town.
"Absolutely housing is a priority going forward,” Fiegenschuh said. “I would say it's not just housing. Any time the city can work on projects that benefit the quality of life for our residents, it's a priority. Housing is certainly one of the top two for that."
The city manager mentioned workforce housing, which is geared towards families with income around the $50,000 range. He thinks there’s a lot of opportunity for that in the Rochelle community.
Fiegenschuh said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the city was in talks with housing developers about a development going out by Walmart that would’ve included workforce and senior housing. He said that didn’t pan out because the land wasn’t zoned for that type of use.
The city has taken some steps in the past to foster housing including rebating property taxes for new housing and waiving building permits.
“We did some little things, but at the end of the day, you have to have people who want to build a house and you have to have a developer, at least on a subdivision side, who is willing to invest the money and be able to recoup it,” Fiegenschuh said. “They're there to make a profit. There are all kinds of things that go into that. Hopefully we can do something in the future.”
Fiegenschuh believes there are areas in town where housing development could be seen. He said the city will need to be proactive about looking at its comprehensive plan and zoning to help with possible housing.
The planned demolition of the Hickory Grove building could result in housing on that site if the eventual redevelopment goes that way. Fiegenschuh said in years past when the demolition was first talked about, there were potential developers interested in putting up housing or apartments there.
The city could work with developers in public-private partnership along with the state and others to promote housing in the future.
“If the city is going to invest in it, we want to make sure we're partnering with somebody who is going to be successful because we're using public dollars,” Fiegenschuh said. “I thought the study was very interesting and I think there's a lot of opportunity for us here in Rochelle to do all kinds of housing mixes. Not just applying for grants for it, but also working with our local developers to get that done."