ROCHELLE — Rochelle City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said on Dec. 15 that the city has been approached by developers interested in bringing workforce housing to Rochelle.
Workforce housing is generally understood to mean affordable housing for households with earned income that is insufficient to secure quality housing in reasonable proximity to the workplace. It’s geared towards families with income around the $50,000 range.
“I think there's some very serious interest from some developers that we're familiar with and I would like to see that come to fruition,” Fiegenschuh said. “At the very minimum, I want the city to be able to help in any way that we can and provide them an environment where they can do their project here in town.”
Fiegenschuh said conversations with developers are in “very preliminary” stages and he declined to say whether they are local or not. He did say one group applied for some grants through the state and was awarded credits.
“That's really the first step, because those credits help pay for the project through the state,” Fiegenschuh said. It’s very early stages. We've been talking with them at this point about permitting and platting and things like that.”
There is another developer looking at potentially doing some housing on the south side of town as well that wouldn’t necessarily be workforce housing, Fiegenschuh said. That would be multi-family housing and the city has had preliminary conversations with that individual as well.
Fiegenschuh said the city’s role in those conversations is to answer developers’ questions and do what it can to keep the process as streamlined as possible and provide an environment where their project can happen.
“I'm excited about the interest,” Fiegenschuh said. “I think there's some opportunity. I'm not a builder, it's easy to talk about wanting these things when it's not your resources that are out there. But maybe there's some interest in some additional housing subdivisions in our community too. If there's interest, we'd like to partner with that. The workforce housing and just housing in general, I'm excited to work on this next year.”
At its Nov. 8 meeting, the 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.
Fiegenschuh reacted to the preliminary findings of the study by saying more housing in town has been a priority for the city and will be in the future. He’s heard from residents during his tenure as city manager that the city needs more opportunities for housing for all levels of income.
Once final findings of the study are presented, the city plans to work on putting together a more structured plan to improve housing in town.
Fiegenschuh previously 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 demolition of Hickory Grove planned to start in late January could also result in more housing in town if the eventual development of the site goes that way. Fiegenschuh said developers have reached out about the property for some “higher-density” residential housing.
“It's ultimately up to the mayor and council,” Fiegenschuh said. “It's their property. The city owns it and they're in charge of the city. We had some retail interest as well. That's why we want to make a request for information. We want to see all of the proposals and ultimately let the mayor and council determine what they think is the best fit on that highly-visible spot for the next 20-40 years."