Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting by Pam Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)
About a dozen residents from Joann Dorsey Homes and Dunbar Court protested outside of the Champaign County Housing Authority Wednesday to bring to light the troubles they have had finding a new place to live.
Their protest had the intended effect - a meeting with housing authority officials within the next week or so and increased help to find a place to live.
Earlier this year, the housing authority received federal approval to demolish the two apartment complexes as part of redevelopment plan to rebuild larger, mixed-income properties. The complexes have provided housing for low-to-moderate income residents and have been managed by the housing authority.
The properties make up about 90 units of the housing authority's public housing stock and are the oldest public housing properties in the area.
As part of redevelopment plans, the housing authority issued Section 8 vouchers to the residents in June. The vouchers, which provide subsidies for low income families and individuals, are used to rent properties nationwide from private landlords.
"We're out here today because one month ago we were given Section 8 vouchers, (yet) only five residents at Dorsey have been able to find housing," said Margaret Neil, a resident of Joann Dorsey Homes and a commissioner with the housing authority board.
Public housing residents said that finding a place to live under the new payment standards is difficult. Residents also say some landlords have ill conceived notions of people who live in public housing, and do not want to rent to those with Section 8 vouchers. They also say some housing units simply don't have enough space, or do not offer rent that is low enough to meet voucher standards.
"Most of the residents at Joann Dorsey I know that have found places, it's because their sister was renting from that landlord," Neil said. "They haven't gone out cold turkey and found a place. For most of the residents at Joann Dorsey and Dunbar, I think are from Chicago. So, they don't have those ties in the community."
Section 8 vouchers are known as "housing choice" vouchers and allow clients a chance to choose where they want to live. The vouchers cover application fees, security payments, and a certain amount of a tenant's rent based on income. For those with any type of income, the client is required to pay 30 percent of their monthly income toward housing costs. For those without income, the housing authority will pay 100 percent of the housing costs.
The client first finds a place and the housing authority then must approve the unit by calculating the client's affordability rate and then inspecting the unit.
"When we heard about, everybody was happy because they was going to tear (it) down and rebuild again," said Cleo Clay recently, president of the Joann Dorsey Homes resident council. "They were supposed to find relocation for everybody up here ... but the problem is houses we seem to be looking for is not affordable for us."
Clay has lived on and off at Joann Dorsey Homes for more than 20 years. It took Clay four tries before she found a place to live - which was pending approval from the housing authority.
"Everybody is getting frustrated and mad," she said, because the landlords are not accepting the vouchers.
The Champaign County Housing Authority has issued about 1,500 Section 8 vouchers and pay $9 million annually in rent, said Edward Bland, executive director of the Champaign County Housing Authority.
Up until last year, the housing authority paid 110 percent of the fair market rent in the Champaign-Urbana area. To conserve money, however, the board voted to reduce that amount to 95 percent, Bland said.
"We want to make sure that we are being fiscally responsible," Bland said. "There have been several housing authorities throughout this country that have run into a financial situation where they had to take families off the program because they were over spending money in the section 8 program."
The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Champaign-Urbana, according to federal housing standards is $713. Under the new rental payments, the housing authority will only pay no more than $688 for that apartment.
"As of June of last year, they effectively made it not feasible from a financial standpoint to rent to Section 8 (clients)," said local landlord Antwuan Neely.
Neely owns more than 100 properties in Champaign-Urbana - mostly single-family houses. He said he leases about one-third of his properties to Section 8 tenants.
At 110 percent, the former payment standard gave low-to-moderate income families more housing options, Neely said.
"But by reducing the payment standards, it seriously affected those families," he said. "Yes you still can find places in Champaign-Urbana, but with the economy as it is, now you have a lot more people looking for the same type of properties."
Of the 90 or so families in the two public housing complexes, 20 of them have found new places to live, Bland said.
"We will not be forcing any families to move before they are ready to move because we want to make sure every family is comfortable with where they want to go," he said.
Bland said that the housing authority held more than a dozen meetings since last year to work with residents and will continue to meet with them to alleviate their concerns. He said his department will not move forward with tearing down the apartments until all the tenants move out.
"We realize that for some they may need some extra help, and that's what the housing authority is here for," he said. "We're setting up additional meetings with the families ... within the next week or so (to) once again to let those families know they aren't being pushed out."
For the protesters, a meeting is just what they wanted.
"We hope that by picketing down here today, the housing authority will realize that the help they promised - we're serious, we want that help, we will be your face until we get that help, we hope that a meeting will come out of picketing," Neil said.
Late Wednesday, Bland met with Neil to discuss further assistance. He said that the housing authority will increase the value of the Section 8 voucher from its current 95 percent to its previous 110 percent for Joann Dorsey Homes and Dunbar Court tenants "for relocation purposes".
He said that housing authority officials still plan to meet with residents to discuss assistance.
A 35-year prison sentence awaits a Savoy man who shot and killed his brother inside Tolono's only grocery store.
Forty-three year old Brian Maggio has already been jailed for slightly over a year - he will be required to serve 100 percent of the murder sentence for the death of his 32 year old brother Mark.
Mark Maggio was killed during an argument inside the Tolono IGA, which never reopened after the shooting.
Brian Maggio owned that store while his younger brother owned the IGA in Arcola, but the two had a history of financial disputes.
Brian Maggio pleaded guilty to the murder last month - state's attorney Julia Rietz says while Maggio's attorney had asked for a 20 year sentence, the judge decided to order the maximum allowed under the plea agreement.
Informal talks continue that may allow Parkland College to take over the University of Illinois' Institute of Aviation in three years.
The U of I's Board of Trustees voted last week to shut it down, once current students complete the program in 2014. The Institute's Interim Director, Tom Emanuel, met Wednesday with Interim Chancellor Robert Easter for what he calls a preliminary conversation.
Emanuel said the next step is for administrators at both schools to meet, and see if Parkland's finances will allow such a transfer. Those meetings likely will not happen until the fall semester starts. But Emanuel said Parkland could offer courses in addition to flight training.
"I do know Parkland has some interest in looking at a broader aviation program that would include maybe some other things, even conceivably, something with aviation mechanics... I just heard that through the grapevine literally," Emanuel said. "But it makes sense. Aviation is the second largest money producer in the state of Illinois after agriculture."
Easter said he holds out hope that flight training would have a future locally beyond 2014.
"Having a quality program locally available for students coming to the University of Illinois with an interest in learning flying skills," he said. "Proceeding to certification (with Parkland) would be a real plus. And so our interest is if there's a way we can facilitate that, as I told the Board (of Trustees) last week, we will do that."
Easter called last Thursday's decision to close the Institute one of the tougher days in his role of administrator, but said it was the right one to allow for the growth of other programs on the Urbana campus. Administrators say closing Aviation would save $750,000 in a program suffering from declining enrollment.
Emanuel said any arrangement with Parkland would have to be done on smaller scale, since Parkland is a two-year institution and doesn't have the authority to offer a baccalaureate degree. And Emanuel said the Institute's aircraft belong to the U of I's Board of Trustees, and cannot be transferred to a community college. But Emanuel said he believes some arrangement could be made for Parkland to use the planes if everything else falls into place.
Every school in Danville School District #118 will get the choice this year of implementing a dress code for their students.
Parents are learning more about the proposal in public forums Wednesday night and in one week. Associate superintendent Dianna Kirk said it will be up to parents at each building.
"We will ask that parents vote during registration to say yes or no for the uniform dress code policy in their child's particular building," Kirk said. "When a particular school's survey reaches 60 percent in favor of the standard, then we have proposed that we implement this uniform dress code beginning January 4."
The fall semester could be used to help parents and kids prepare for the new code.
The code would be the same for all schools that accept it -- it would require certain solid color, button-down or polo shirts and forbid items ranging from jeans to hoodies to t-shirts.
Kirk said administrators have heard both opposition and support from parents and students.
"Some parents feel that it's less expensive once they've established the basic wardrobe," Kirk said. "Some students also say that people won't talk when they don't have this brand name on or that brand name on."
But Kirk acknowledges that other students and parents oppose the dress code's effect on individuality. She said there has been talk of a so-called uniform closet where those who can't afford the new wardrobe can get help.
Two Illinois agencies will get more than $1.1 million in federal grant money to prevent homelessness among military veterans.
The grants from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will serve about 340 vets and their families who are homeless or don't have a permanent home.
An agency called Thresholds in Chicago will get $439,722 and Chicago-based Volunteers of America in Illinois will get $719,400.
The money is among nearly $60 million the department will award to 85 nonprofit agencies in 40 states and Washington, D.C.
The Supportive Services for Veteran Families programs provides money to community agencies to help with such services as getting Veterans Administration benefits, and paying rent, utilities or moving costs.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media and Illinois Public Radio)
Prominent Republicans say they are filing a federal lawsuit to block Illinois' new Democrat-drawn congressional map.
The lawsuit they are filing on Wednesday claims the new map is "outrageous partisan gerrymander" designed to eliminate five Republicans in next year's election.
The lawsuit also makes the case that Latino voting power is being diluted. The map, it claims, packs "an excessive super-majority of Latino voters" into Congressman Luis Gutierrez's district.
Filing the lawsuit is the Committee for a Fair and Balanced Map, which includes such prominent Republicans such as former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Also named as plaintiffs are Illinois' five freshman Republicans who voters sent to Washington in the 2010 election.
In fact, 10 of Illinois' 11 Republican U.S. House members released a statement, saying "an impartial review of the facts in court will expose the serious deficits in this map and reverse the naked partisan power-grab contemplated by Democrats."
Urbana 15th District Republican Congressman Tim Johnson chose to stay out of the lawsuit. His spokesman, Phil Bloomer, said it is not because the Congressman doesn't support it.
"Congressman Johnson certainly believes that the redistricting process leading up to this map was unfair and a distortion of the people's issues," he said. "He's been in office and public service one way or another for over 40 years, and none of these challenges have ever succeeded. So he's decided to devote his energy and resources to his re-election campaign in the 13th District."
Johnson's new territory includes all or part of 33 counties in Southeast Illinois.
The lawsuit claims the map aims to erase Republican gains and dilute Latino voters. Democrats drew the map because they control the Illinois Legislature and the governor's office. Gov. Pat Quinn signed it into law last month. The new map gave Illinois 18 instead of 19 congressional districts because of the state's slowing population growth.
If the lawsuit fails, some members of the group may face each other on the ballot next year. One Republican who finds himself in a complicated political position is freshman Congressman Joe Walsh from the Northwest suburbs.
I know I'm running somewhere," Walsh said. "I don't know where. I live in what would be the new 14th. My district office is in what would be the new 10th. A big chunk of my district is in what would be the new 6th."
If Walsh does choose to run where he lives - the 14th - it's likely to set up a primary challenge with another freshman congressman, Randy Hultgren.
Yesterday, the heavy-weight conservative group Club for Growth announced that if the redistricting lawsuit fails, it will endorse Walsh in that race, saying he is distinguished himself as a "pro growth leader" during his short time in Congress.
Hultgren's staff didn't return requests for comment.
Last week the GOP's leaders in the Illinois legislature, state Rep. Tom Cross and state Sen. Christine Radogno, sued the state over the boundaries included in the map for state legislative districts.
Both lawsuits name as defendants the Illinois State Board of Elections, which will be represented in court by the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Regarding both cases, Madigan spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler emailed, "We plan to vigorously defend the state.
The city of Champaign is looking to give some motorists another option for those who don't have change for the parking meter.
City council members Tuesday will be asked to give preliminary approval for a test run of 'smart meters' downtown. The first 37 of them, which accept debit and credit cards, would be installed in the 100 block of North Walnut Street, and on Chester Street between Neil and Market Streets.
Patti Anderson is a management analyst with Champaign's Public Works Department. She says the meters should boost city revenue, but also cut down on parking tickets.
"You can expect to see parking violations decrease because people are more inclined, with the credit card, to put in the full amount for the time limit," said Anderson. "And so, that way you need more revenue generated because they put more money in in the first place, but you do see a decrease in parking fines."
The city is planning a six-month trial for the first meters to see how colder weather affects them. Champaign may then purchase those meters, install about 30 more north of the trial area, and 100 additional ones in the easternmost portion of Campustown.
The city council meets in a study session starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday. But even if they're finalized next week, city staff says it could be a while before the meters are actually in place, since Champaign first has to set up a schedule with a vendor for installing them.
The University of Illinois and city of Urbana are also exploring the use of smart meters.
Indiana lawmakers are debating right-to-work legislation that sparked a five-week walkout by House Democrats and could set a contentious tone when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Commerce Secretary Mitch Roob opened a day-long hearing Tuesday, saying he supported legislation because it makes it easier to bring manufacturing jobs to Indiana.
But Gov. Mitch Daniels said Tuesday he's unsure if he would support a bill.
House Democrats left the state for five weeks this year to block Republicans from advancing the measure. The move was similar to that of Wisconsin Senate Democrats who staged a walkout to stifle Republican Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to cut collective bargaining rights.
The proposal would allow workers to be protected under labor contracts without having to pay union dues.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wants to negotiate with unions to keep labor reforms at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center.
But he also says he and top lawmakers are ready to bring legislators back to Springfield in September to fine tune any necessary legislation.
Quinn met Tuesday with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the state's four legislative leaders about ways to keep the work rule changes.
A federal judge ruled in March that many of the labor reforms lawmakers wanted at McCormick were illegal because they went beyond the terms of union contracts.
The judge also ruled legislators overturned collective bargaining rights in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
Some conventions have pulled out of the city because of the high cost to host events at McCormick.
The financially-struggling U.S. Postal Service is putting thousands of post offices under review for possible closure - including many in east central Illinois.
Two of them are Champaign's Campustown post office and the facility inside the U of I's Altgeld Hall. But most are rural post offices in some of the smallest communities. They include Bondville, Dewey, Ivesdale, Penfield, Royal and Longview in Champaign County as well as Armstrong, Collison, Indianola and Muncie in Vermilion County and DeLand in Piatt County.
Valerie Welsch is with the post office's district headquarters in Saint Louis. Welsch said being on the list does not necessarily mean closure -customers who use those post offices will be given questionnaires before any closing decision is made.
"The local operations manager will make a determination whether they think that's possible," she said. "If they do, that'll get forwarded to the district manager. If he feels it's warranted, then it will go to our national headquarters in Washington, DC for a final decision."
Welsch said if a post office is tagged for closure, there is another 30-day public appeal process. She said the Postal Service is seeing more people use online and other retail services for things like stamps. Welsch also said post offices in communities are sometimes replaced by community postal boxes.
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