Belleville

Belleville is giving away a house. Here’s how that will improve the ‘beautiful city.’

Rebuilding Belleville neighborhood

Belleville, IL City Council donated a vacant home on South Ninth Street to the Belleville Community Development Corporation, which will renovate the condemned brick home and then sell it.
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Belleville, IL City Council donated a vacant home on South Ninth Street to the Belleville Community Development Corporation, which will renovate the condemned brick home and then sell it.

Whitney and Dustan Barnard are really ready for some new neighbors.

The Barnards have four vacant homes near their house at the intersection of South Ninth and Monroe streets so the couple is happy to hear about the Belleville Community Development Corp’s plans to renovate and sell two of those vacant properties.

“I have small kids so if we had more neighbors with kids that would be great,” Whitney Barnard said. “Let’s get people in those homes. Either fill it up or tear it down.”

Instead of being demolished, a brick home near the Barnard’s home is scheduled to be rehabbed by the federally-funded Belleville Community Development Corp. and then sold.

In a new co-operative effort with the nonprofit Belleville Community Development Corp., the Belleville City Council has agreed to give the home at 313 S. Ninth St. to the community group along with the adjacent vacant lot and $5,000 in TIF money.

In exchange, the Belleville Community Development Corp. agreed to spend at least $174,000 to renovate the home, where neighbors have seen a family of raccoons hanging out. Parts of the front wall are crumbling and the home was condemned by the city a year ago. It was built in 1905.

This two-story home is across the street from a frame house at 316 S. Ninth St. that the development group recently purchased for about $35,000 and already has started to renovate.

“By having the city get involved, we’re taking some of the worst homes and with help from the city, we can get a contractor to restore those homes and bring back the neighborhood,” said Jane Pusa, who is a board member with the Belleville Community Development Corp. and serves on the City Council.

“If you get the worst, the rest will come easy because other people will want to become a part of it,” she said.

Mayor Mark Eckert said he hopes the city can continue its partnership with the Belleville Community Development Corp. and other groups that rehab older homes.

“They get the big picture to try to restore the integrity of some of these older homes,” Eckert said. “It saves us the demolition. It lifts up a neighborhood. It brings more people with ownership into a neighborhood.”

Eckert said he looks forward to having a homeowner reoccupy the South Ninth Street homes and pay property taxes.

If the city had to tear down the brick home at 313 S. Ninth St., it would have cost $8,000 to $10,000 based on an estimate from the housing department, Eckert said. Belleville recently bought the home for about $800 from the St. Clair County Trustee who had ownership after taxes had not been paid.

The city has owned the vacant lot at 315 S. Ninth St. since it tore down the house there in the late 1990s. Eckert said the city has been responsible for mowing the lot ever since.

With the city donating this lot to the Belleville Community Development Corp., the city will no longer have to cut the grass and the development group will be able to charge a higher sales price when it sells the home at 313 S. Ninth St., Eckert said.

The two homes on South Ninth Street are expected to be on the market this spring.

The Barnards moved into their home in April and from their front porch you can see the two homes acquired by the Belleville Community Development Corp.

“If they can’t fix it up, tear it down and put a little park in there for kids,” Dustan Barnard said. “But if they say they’re going to fix them up, I say more power to them.”

Belleville Ward 4 Alderman Raffi Ovian in front of the Franklin Apartments building at 4 N. 96th St. Ovian and other Belleville aldermen are working on a program that will encourage owners to redevelop vacant and derelict properties.

Fixing neighborhoods

The Belleville Community Development Corp. was established in the early 1990s and the group’s annual goal is to rehab four homes from “top to bottom,” according to Clint Forsythe, the president of the board.

“We have the ability to take on these homes that 95 percent of the investors out there couldn’t touch because there is no money to be made,” he said.

“So we specialize in doing the bad ones,” Forsythe said with a laugh. “The really bad ones.”

“And that’s why they look so good when they’re done,” added Mary Ann Brauer, who serves on the group’s board.

Brauer said Belleville is “a beautiful city” but has homes that need work.

“We’re rebuilding Belleville,” Forsythe said. “We’re rebuilding this old city and bringing it back to life essentially.”

Forsythe, Brauer and other board members volunteer to oversee the program.

The group gets funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development via the St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department.

It typically takes a total of $175,000 to $190,000 to buy a home, renovate it and sell it, Forsythe said.

Prospective homeowners must meet income guidelines in the low to moderate range and promise to live in the home for five years.

“They have to qualify for a mortgage,” Brauer said.

Also, they can receive grants worth up to $10,000.

If the person does not remain in the home for five years, he or she must pay back any grant money based upon how long they lived in the home.

Forsythe said the group aims to sell a home and get back at least 50 percent of its investment. The group recently sold a home for about $115,000.

The Belleville Community Development Corp. previously had built new homes with the help of local high school students but that program has not had funding in recent years.

Brauer and Forsythe said they would like to work with the city on more projects.

“It’s a great partnership that we think we can grow,” Forsythe said. “We really think this is just the beginning of the new direction and new attitude and a stronger partnership with the city.”

Belleville City Council has approved a plan designed to reduce vacant homes in an effort to attract new residents and decrease crime.

For more information

The Belleville Community Development Corp. has a Facebook page and a website at bellevillecdc.org.

Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and grew up in St. Louis.


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