City leaders on Monday began a $9.5 million project to build 30 new single-family homes with the help of a federal tax credit.
The Rev. Herman Watson, pastor of Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, said new affordable homes are just about a year away from being a reality for East St. Louis families.
The Development Corp. is planning two-, three-, and four-bedroom homes for low-income families in the Winstanley neighborhood. The church has been in the neighborhood for 85 years and began developing housing there in 2002.
The development is called Sinai Village II. Watson said the vision has been one he's had for 23 years.
"I grew up in sub-standard housing with a single mom and five other siblings. She did the best she could. I know how important it is for people to have decent affordable housing," Watson said.
Watson's mother, Lorraine Watson, 86, was among the residents and city and civic leaders gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony Monday. He thanked her for her strict, steadfast guidance throughout his life growing up in East St. Louis.
"I am happy she is alive to see this," he said.
Watson said there were many hurdles to clear before the celebration was possible.
"Pastor Watson has a vision. Without his vision we wouldn't be here for the celebration. We truly appreciate him. I see myself as a facilitator for trying to make the dreams and visions come though with my position working with the state," State Sen. James Clayborne said.
The money comes from federal and state sources. The total project cost includes a variety of construction and services fees, land acquisition and other costs. A breakdown on how much the homes will cost was not immediately available.
"Sinai Village II was made possible through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, the largest affordable housing production tool, and will provide families with good transportation options and access to opportunity for years to come," said Raoul Moore, senior vice president of Syndication at Enterprise Community Investment.
"People deserve the opportunity to grow up and live in decent housing. It gives them hope. It gives them the opportunity to understand what the value of living in good homes and a good community is about," Clayborne said.
State Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis, told the crowd this is "a good project."
He applauded Watson for his perseverance when it didn't seem like the vision would become a reality.
"You had the will to follow through on your vision. For a city to grow, you must have affordable housing."
East St. Louis Mayor Alvin L. Parks Jr. echoed those sentiments.
"We are here (because) Rev. Herman Watson had a vision 22 years ago. ... You (Watson) have given people an opportunity to live the American Dream. Everybody growing up wants to live in a house they can call home," Parks said.
The first homes will be available in June 2015, according to project literature.
Brenda Hicks, a resident and member of Mount Sinai was beside herself with joy.
"I am elated. I thank God for having brought this vision of our pastor . We know East St. Louis needs it. One of this city's greatest needs is affordable housing. You can see the blight and disintegration of our city. Because of affordable housing, the Phoenix is rising from the ashes. It gives the people hope for themselves and their families. These new homes will give the people who will be living in them a sense of accomplishment. Our men can stand straight up as men when they are in their homes with their families," Hicks, the former business owner of Alpha Omega and long time resident, said.
The project will also mean 45 construction jobs for East St. Louisans and 11 permanent jobs, something Charlotte Flickinger, a legislative liaison for the Illinois Housing Development Authority sad "is a great benefit."
City Councilman Latoya Greenwood said, "I love it."
"I am happy that this project will give some families their own homes. The people of East St. Louis deserve this opportunity. I am pleased that this project is being done. It will help to bring our city back," she said.
Barbara Henderson, a resident and business owner , said she loves the Phase ll project too. "I thought Illinois had given up on us. The city is dead right now. We all want to see it come back. This is a positive, " she said.