Crystal Kang interviews Thom Pollock, executive director of Crosspoint Human Services and president of the New Holland Corporation
The third story in our Neighbors series focuses on Thom Pollock, a long-time resident of Danville, Illinois. See below for the transcription of his interview, which includes voice overs from WILLconnect.org producer Crystal Kang, a senior in the College of Media at the University of Illinois.
"My name is Thom Pollock. I have lived in Danville almost 16 years."
Thom Pollock came to Danville from Chicago where he had served in Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTA. Through his work at a mental health agency in the Edgewater/Uptown area he grew passionate about human services. Today, he serves as the executive director of the private, not-for-profit Crosspoint Human Services in Danville.
"Crosspoint Human Services is a comprehensive agency in terms of human services. It not only serves persons with mental illness but persons who have developmental disabilities. Women and children who are in the midst of domestic violence. Women and children who are homeless. We have a daycare center. We have a program that covers seven counties that assesses children in their developmental stages of birth to three."
Crosspoint Human Services provides a number of affordable housing opportunities for people in Vermilion County.
"Crosspoint's establishments are all over Danville. And we have 16 buildings. And we like to think of ourselves as the best neighbor on the block. So we maintain our properties very well. We make sure that the neighbors know who we are. And that in the event there's a problem, feel free to call us. And in that way, I think we have had a very solid reputation about being a good neighbor."
Like many cities in Illinois Danville has a high rate of vacant properties. Vacant properties can contribute to the decline of neighborhoods. But Thom says Danville has a strong sense of community and that holds neighborhoods together. He sees it in his neighborhood.
"Recently, we had a little vandalism with our home. And one of our neighbors decided that they were going to travel up and down the alley behind our home and has done so almost on a daily basis at multiple times during the day to check to see that our home is okay. And that some folks that might be considered ne'er-do-wells are identified. So yeah, we look out for one another and have basically cleaned up the neighborhood."
Thom's home is in an old neighborhood, not far from downtown. In downtown Danville you'll find an apartment complex that Thom and the city are proud of.
Not long ago the apartments were run down and known for drugs and prostitution. Then Crosspoint Human Services, with Thom's vision, took it on. After a long struggle they found the money and the expertise to rehabilitate the complex, now known as the New Holland.
"It was rare to see historic restoration, green technology and affordable housing all put into one package. And we received national and state awards for that effort. When we first opened it up in 2005, I kind of thought that it was the newest neighborhood in Danville because all of a sudden 47 units were filled with families and kids. And it was just really neat to see school buses come up to what was once a building of ill repute and now it's got a very solid, positive relationship to the community and to the town."
Thom Pollock, who lives in Danville, Illinois, is executive director of Crosspoint Human Services and president of the New Holland Corporation.
The income of residents in Champaign and Vermilion has not kept pace with the increase of rent and as a result affordable housing is becoming harder to find.
(Former University of Illinois journalism graduate student Landon Cassman contributed to this report)
The income of residents in Champaign and Vermilion has not kept pace with the increase of rent and as a result affordable housing is becoming harder to find.
Census data from 2000 and 2010 and recent housing studies shows there are more renters, but that many can't afford to pay fair market rent. The data and studies also reveal that the number of vacant units has skyrocketed.
"The housing needs haven't changed. In fact, they've gotten worse for the people who need them," said Thom Pollock, executive director of Crosspoint Human Services.
A comprehensive review of local housing studies, Census data and federal reports show that across Champaign and Vermilion counties shows that between 2000 and 2010, fair market rents for a two-bedroom apartment in the two counties have increased more than 30 percent.
For Champaign County, it's gone up from about $600 to more than $800 for a two-bedroom apartment. In Vermilion County, it's increased from about $400 to $600 for a two-bedroom apartment in.
Meanwhile, median household income has increased less than 20 percent - from about $37,600 in 1999 to $45,200 in 2010 in Champaign County and from about $34,200 in 1999 to about $38,200 in Vermilion County A review of the studies and Census data also shows:
- The number of vacant housing units increased 43 percent between 2000 and 2010, from about 6,200 vacant housing units to nearly 9,000 vacant housing units . In 2000, about 7 percent of nearly 88,400housing units were vacant. In 2010, about 9 percent of 101,600 housing units were vacant.
- Renter-occupied properties increased 20 percent over the past 10 years from 36,200 to 43,200 while owner-occupied properties increased about 8 percent from about 46,000 to nearly 50,000.
- Minorities making up a disproportionate percentage of the renters and are concentrated in areas with low housing value and quality. While minority groups make up 29 percent of the total population, they make up 35 percent of the renters across the two counties.
Officials from Champaign released a county-wide housing study as part a report to the city council in October that looked at housing needs across the county. The study found that nearly 12 percent of the county's housing stock is substandard and over 10 percent of its households are "overburdened" - meaning households that pay more than 30 percent of income to rent and basic utilities.
"Probably the biggest issue that it pointed to was the lack of affordable housing, rental housing, for extremely low-income people," said Kerri Spear, neighborhood programs manager at the City of Champaign. "When you are earning less than 30 percent of the median family income, the ability for you to pay for your market rent in Champaign-Urbana is impossible."
College Students Lift Prices
Local college students not only drive up the rental price in Champaign-Urbana, but typically get the best pick of rental units in the best condition, Spear said.
"I think what we see here in Champaign-Urbana being a college community is that landlords can charge more because when you bring in two or three college students, each of them technically may be low-income, but they're usually supported financially living elsewhere, Spear said " And so, students can obviously pay more."
The county-wide housing study adjusted for the student population when assessing the area's needs.
"The effect of the student population in both the Cities of Champaign and Urbana is significant. If left in the housing need numbers, the students would be responsible for overstating need by nearly four times in the City of Champaign and by over twice as much in the City of Urbana," the report stated.
It added that the housing need is nevertheless still great in those Urbana and Champaign two communities as well as in Rantoul.
The housing study found that the majority of the county's lowest income population and minority populations are located within Champaign and Urbana, even with the student population removed.
While these two cities grapple with higher housing cost, its neighbor, Danville, also struggles with providing quality affordable housing.
Danville Housing Lower Priced, But Substandard
A study by the City of Danville released in September showed that while housing in Danville is "very low-priced ... much is in substandard conditions."
The Danville report states that nearly half of the homes in Danville were built before 1947 and homes built within the past 20 years make up less than 5 percent of the housing stock.
"Old housing stock is in some cases an impediment (to fair housing choices) where city-wide depressed housing values limit reinvestment, maintenance and modernization and make new construction economically impractical," the report stated. "Too much of the affordable housing is in substandard condition," the report stated.
Gloria Thompson-Brown is a housing rights advocate and works to educate low-income residents on their rights and responsibilities.
"Landlords have been lax in keeping their properties up," Thompson-Brown said. "And when there are residents living in these (properties), if there are problems, they tend to blame it on the residents when landlords should be held more responsible for the upkeep of the properties."
Over the past decade, Danville lost just over 1 percent of its housing units, according to Census data. Renters make up about 36 percent of Danville's housing market.
Without residents, though, there is no rental business, Thompson-Brown said.
"They're the most important commodity in the business," she said. "So I think they should be treated as such and know that (they) are needed here. And it should be a two-way street."
New Danville project gets awards
The New Holland apartment complex in downtown Danville is a renovated five-story historic affordable housing project that has garnered several awards for its designs as well as large-scale energy-efficient geothermal system.
"We decided to kind of push the envelope," said Thom Pollock, executive director of Crosspoint Human Services and president of the New Holland Corp. "We wanted it to be green. We want it to be historically correct, and we wanted it at the end to be affordable for the tenants. And I think we achieved all three."
The nearly 50 apartments units in the building are subsidized and rents range anywhere 40 percent to 60 percent of fair market rent. Residents cannot make more than 60 percent of the area median income to live at the New Holland.
Barbara Donaldson, 77, moved in to a two-bedroom apartment at the New Holland six years ago. Once a homeowner, Donaldson had sold her house before moving to Israel. But a series illness and subsequent operation cut short her plans for a permanent stay in Jerusalem and Donaldson moved home.
"And so, just gradually, I was still working some after that," she said. "But my strength in the recent years has kind of decreased because I'm not, of course, as you know, as young as I used to be."
With a depleted savings account and limited income, Donaldson's housing options were stifled.
"My options would probably be that I would be with one of my children," she said. "That probably would be about it. Because at this point, at my age and so forth, I'm not able to really make a lot of money."
Donaldson said she was out hunting for a new place to live when she saw the New Holland and "thought in my heart, this is where I want to be."
"I love this majestic building," Donaldson said.
And that is what Pollock hoped to accomplish.
"Affordable housing should be quality housing, safe housing. Something that you and I would like to live in," he said. "And in this case that's what we aim to do at the (New Holland) and I think we've achieved that."
Mary Ann Pettigrew shares stories of growing up in Danville.
The first story in our Neighbors series focuses on Mary Ann Pettigrew, a long-time resident of Danville, Illinois. See below for the transcription of her interview, which includes voice overs from WILL's Celeste Quinn.
"My name is Mary Ann Pettigrew, and I have lived at this address since 1962 when I bought this house."
The neighborhood is known as Rabbittown. The name goes back to the 19th century - inspired by the large number of wild rabbits living in the area. Most of the neighborhood's homes -including Mary Ann's- were built prior to the 1920s. Mary Ann grew up in a house her parents, John and Sarah Pettigrew, rented. There were nine children - six girls and three boys. Her father worked three jobs.
"I grew up within about five blocks of the present location and went to school at St. Pat's Catholic Church, which is a few blocks away. We always walked to school. They were wonderful neighbors. Established neighborhood. A close-knit neighborhood. Everybody watched out for the kids. If we did something wrong, we found out that our parents knew it before we got home."
For a number of years, the house she and younger sister Pat Pettigrew call home today housed her parents and some siblings. Mary Ann spent a number of years working as a Registered Nurse for the Santa Fe Railroad, for an oil company in the Middle East and St. Francis Hospital in Peoria. She came back to Danville in the early 1970s and has lived at the house on Buchanan Street ever since. She's seen many changes overtime - most recently the recession and slump in real estate. They have taken a toll on the neighborhood.
"We've had some young people move in. But I think the biggest issue is that some of the homes that have not sold are standing empty and others that the larger homes that have been turned into apartments. And I think that's one issue that has been a problem with the apartments. People are there for maybe a few months, and they're gone. And then somebody else comes in. They're there for a while and then they're gone, too. So there's really no sense of ownership as such. The issues that concern us as a whole are probably not unique to any city. These times are hard on everybody."
Neighbors, the neighborhood and Danville have always been important to Mary Ann Pettigrew. She is active in her Neighborhood Association and encourages young families to join and bring their children when they can. She knows there are many demands on families, but she says being a good neighbor is rewarding.
"In my opinion, a good neighbor is one who you know is there for you. They're friendly. They know that you can help them whenever they need it. And you know, without being intrusive. We had a neighbor lady. Her name was Margaret. We always called her Bunny. She used to drive a station wagon. And she was great. She taught Catechism at school. And she told us after church one day, she said, "Now when I give up my car," she said, "would you take me to church?" We said, "Sure, Bunny. We'll take you to church." So she finally had to give it up, and she said, "Okay." She said, "I had to take my driver's license three times last year." She said, "I'm not even going to try this year." So, she was in her 90's then."
Mary Ann Pettigrew of Danville, Illinois. I'm Celeste Quinn.
Every year, thousands of migrant workers come to Illinois to detassel corn and harvest crops. Often times they do not make enough money to feed themselves and their families.
Every year, thousands of migrant workers come to Illinois to detassel corn and harvest crops. Often times they do not make enough money to feed themselves and their families. Language barriers are keeping these farm workers from getting the help they need.
Back in the 1980's, there was a lawsuit filed alleging that Illinois didn't provide adequate bilingual services to people applying for food stamps. That lawsuit led to a court order known as the Quinones Consent Decree. To settle the lawsuit, the state agreed to increase interpreter and translation services in public aid offices where there was a high concentration of Spanish speakers. It also allowed the state to contract with the Illinois Migrant Council to help farmworkers sign up for food stamps.
The Illinois Migrant Council currently gets about $40,500 from the Illinois Department of Human Services to maintain that program, but Eloy Salazar, the organization's executive director, said that's not enough.
"The need for the program has increased, and the funding has not kept up pace with that," Salazar said. "It's getting harder and harder for us to provide the kind of services that we need to provide because of inflation, cost of travel for the people that we hire, and that money is just not going far enough."
The council has cut the program down to two food stamp outreach coordinators in the state - one of whom is Magdalena Lopez.
Lopez's job takes her to six east central Illinois counties from Kankakee to Mattoon. Speaking at the end of August half-way through the migrant farm labor season, Lopez said she had already filled out more than 800 food stamp applications.
"When they're here, I'm here to work," Lopez said. "I'm here till all hours of the afternoon and weekends in order for them to do it on time."
One of the workers who waited to see her outside of an apartment complex on Urbana's east side was Rosando Islas, who came to Champaign County from Texas to work for Pioneer Hi-Bred.
Islas can go the local DHS office in Champaign to sign up for food stamps where there are people who can help him in Spanish. But instead he chooses to go to Lopez, in whom he has a high level of confidence that he said he cannot get anywhere else.
"I like doing it here because it's more one-on-one, everyone is more understanding of the relationship we have with her," he said. "I can confide in her knowing that she does her job really well."
Lopez also met with Aurora Garcia, who works for Pioneer. Garcia has been coming back and forth to Champaign County for the last 22 years from Texas. She typically signs up for food stamps through Lopez. But the day before she met with Lopez at the end of August, she tried to sign up at Champaign's DHS office. While the office is supposed to be staffed with permanent bilingual employees, Garcia said when she got there; no one was available to help.
"I went to DHS, and all they did was just give me the paperwork," Garcia said. "They didn't ask me to wait. They didn't tell me to look for somebody. I was a little bit angry. They didn't ask for my name. I asked for Magdalena, and they didn't answer any questions."
Lopez said she often hears stories from migrant workers who have a bad experience at a DHS office because of language barriers, confusion by people working at the front desk, or long waits. She said a group of about 40 migrants were recently turned away from the Coles County DHS office because a person who worked there said no one who spoke Spanish was available to help. That office, like the one in Champaign, does have permanent bilingual staff.
"They went back again, and the same thing happened," Lopez explained. "Then they called me and they wanted to know if the people were going to go back. I said they're probably not going to go back. She says, 'Well, we gave them applications.' I said, 'Yes, but some of them don't know how to write.'"
The DHS' Director of Hispanic/Latino Affairs, Nelida Smyser-Deleon, said no one should be turned away because of their language or background. Smyser-Deleon's office oversees the Quinones Consent Decree, the court order that allowed the state to boost its interpreter and translation services in offices that handle food stamp applications. Smyser-Deleon said even if an office isn't fully staffed with permanent bilingual employees, people who work at the front desk should at least be familiar with how to help a non-English speaker.
"They have a document in front of them, like '¿Habla Español?'" she said. "You know key things that they can ask the individual, and then have them point to the language. Then they go ahead and look for a bilingual person who speaks that language and bring them up to the front."
Smyser-Deleon said each office also has instructional posters on the walls in Spanish and English with information about food stamp rights, migrant counties, and interpreter services.
"Those are posters that are mandated through the Quinones Consent Decree that should be in every office," she said.
About 70 percent of the DHS offices that handle food stamp applications lack permanent bilingual staff across 24 counties where at least 1 in 5 Hispanics live below the poverty line and where at least 1 in 5 aren't proficient in English, according to Census Bureau estimates.
The state said at this point, it's unable to pump more money into the Illinois Migrant Council's food stamp outreach efforts because of budgetary reasons.
One option, though, for the migrant council is to start using its own funds to support the program rather than relying on the state. If that were to happen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the federal food stamp program, said it could reimburse the council for half of what it puts into outreach.
Meanwhile, food banks, like those in McLean and Champaign Counties, are making efforts to fill the gap with their own food stamp outreach coordinators. But like the Illinois Department of Human Services, they suffer from a lack of Spanish speaking workers on the ground.
A look at how cities in east central Illinois are working to keep blight out of neighborhoods.
Champaign, Urbana and Danville handle about 6,000 nuisance property cases a year. While most property owners fix problems when they receive notification, those who don't cost the city-and taxpayers-thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," CU-CitizenAccess reporter Pam Dempsey looks at how cities in east central Illinois are working to keep blight out of neighborhoods.
Profiling Rural Churches in east central Illinois, as they're impacted by demographics and the economy.
In rural towns throughout Central Illinois, deciding where to attend worship service today could mean giving up youth activities or choir for a smaller service, or sacrificing a local connection to seek out parishioners of a similar age in a large congregation. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert looks at rural churches, and what some in the region are doing to survive in today's climate.
Illinois Public Media’s Sean Powers looks at small town police departments, including Ogden, which recently laid off its officers, and Mansfield, which has maintained a police force.
Even though small towns may not have big crime problems compared to larger areas, they still need law enforcement. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers visited one town that's keeping its local police presence intact despite the state's economic challenges, and another town that recently dismantled its police force to save money.
Every time the National Weather Service issues a storm warning, Heidi Zavaleta has to decide where to seek shelter. She can stay at home, go to the mall or drive to the nearest hospital.
Every time the National Weather Service issues a storm warning, Heidi Zavaleta has to decide where to seek shelter. She can stay at home, go to the mall or drive to the nearest hospital.
Most of the time she simply stays at home.
Zavaleta lives in Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park, a trailer home community in northern Champaign. She knows that mobile homes are not safe during storms but staying at home is safer than what most of her neighbors do.
"Most of them just go underneath the interstate's bridge," she said.
Because the neighborhood lacks a storm shelter, residents of Shadow Wood are in danger every time a storm approaches. Whether they stay at home, drive to a hospital or climb up underneath the interstate's bridge, they put their lives at risk. They have no other options.
Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park has 255 occupied units and 850 residents, most of them Hispanics. It is located between Market Street and the Canadian National railroad tracks just south of Interstate 74 in Champaign. Not only does the neighborhood lack a storm shelter, the closest public building that could provide shelter and is open 24 hours a day is Carle Foundation Hospital located two miles south of Shadow Wood. Walking from Shadow Wood to the hospital could take up to 30 minutes.
Mary Blue, office manager of Shadow Wood, said she tries to orient tenants about storm safety when they first move to Shadow Wood, but that "even though you tell them that it is not safe, they think that [the interstate's bridge] is the best place for them, with concrete over the top of them."
The National Weather Service's website explained that overpasses are dangerous because they provide little to no protection against debris and because wind speeds can be higher underneath overpasses.
Jose Rodriguez, a Colombian immigrant who lives in Shadow Wood, said that during storms he takes his family to the mall. "When we moved, people who had lived here for many years told us 'the mall was a good place to seek shelter,'" he said. Market Place Mall is located just north of Shadow Wood, across the interstate.
Due to the large Spanish-speaking population at Shadow Wood, many residents don't rely on mass media warning systems, which are in English. Many residents said they don't find out about the proximity of a storm until the sirens go off.
Residents explained that when severe weather hits and the sirens go off, road conditions are often bad and visibility low, making it difficult to drive across the city to seek shelter. This is why many decide to stay at home, climb up the bridge or go to the nearby mall.
According to census data, only 6.1 percent of the United States population lives in mobile homes. But the National Weather Service data states that 43 percent of all U.S. deaths occurred in mobile homes. This puts mobile home residents at a higher risk of being injured during a tornado.
One reason trailer parks don't provide shelters is because no federal or state laws require park owners to provide storm shelters to tenants.
Greg Skaggs, a community development specialist for the city of Champaign, said that the city is aware of the situation at Shadow Wood and is looking for ways to create a shelter that residents could use in severe weather.
The neighborhood where Shadow Wood is located has been an area of concern for the city. To address the issues of the area, the city created the Bristol Park Neighborhood Plan, which was designed to improve housing, recreation, transportation and public safety. One of the long-term goals of the plan is to encourage the building of a storm shelter near Shadow Wood.
Skaggs said it could take up to 20 years to accomplish the long-term goals of the plan, but building a shelter could take even longerThe city has no funds to build a shelter or any plans to allocate money in the future. Even though the Bristol Park Neighborhood Plan mentions the need for a shelter, the city is "encouraging" the construction of a shelter instead of creating a project to built one.
The city hopes to find an organization or private donor that could provide the funds to create a storm shelter, Skaggs said.
The city owns a vacant lot just south of Shadow Wood that would fall within the 150 feet radius recommended for a storm shelter.
"We would be willing to use our land and if another organization would come in and want to set up their operations maybe we could donate our land, it could be a partnership that way," Skaggs said.
Skaggs said the city contacted the trailer park owner, who is willing to cooperate with the city or any other organization that wishes to build a shelter. But Blue said the trailer park doesn't have the money to invest in a storm shelter.
"We have a lot of things here in the park that needs to be done before we do anything like that," Blue said.
Shadow Wood is not the only trailer park community in Champaign County without a storm shelter. Residents of the Chief Illini Village, located in the corner of Interstate 74 and State Route 130, have to seek shelter elsewhere as well. Blue, a resident of the village, said that most of her neighbors stay at home but others seek shelter at the MEDCAT 911 building or at Carle Foundation Hospital.
As spring and summer approach, the risk of severe weather increases, and Champaign County is not a stranger to severe weather. The National Weather Service Forecast Office estimates that 60 tornados have made landfall in Champaign County since 1953. One of the strongest tornados recorded touched down in east Urbana in the spring of 1996. The tornado had wind speeds were between 158 and 206 mph, strong enough to lift a trailer home.
Residents choose to go to places that are not safe such as overpasses or grocery stores because they have not been informed about what to do when severe weather is present. Neither the city nor the trailer park administration provides Shadow Wood residents with information about how to handle a severe weather situation.
Rodriguez said that, in the two years he has been living in Shadow Wood, he has never seen or heard any type of information delivered to residents other than what gets passed around between neighbors. Neither Rodriguez nor Zavaleta has an emergency plan in case of severe weather.
Blue said not many residents ask for information about storm safety, but she tries to orient them every time she can.
"I have no idea where to send them and know they will be safe... If they come and ask I tell them to go to Carle," she said.
The Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park has seen many changes during the past two decades, most notably a dramatic increase in its Hispanic population and a reduction in crime.
(With additional reporting from Jose Diaz)
Two years ago, Jose Rodriguez and his three daughters left their home in Ibague, Colombia, a city of about half a million people in the slopes of the Andes Mountains, 80 miles west of Bogota, the capital city, and headed north for Champaign.
They followed the girls' mother, from whom Rodriguez is separated. She came to Champaign a decade earlier after finding work in the area, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen and sponsoring Rodriguez, 38, and their daughters, ages 15, 12 and 7. Like their mother before them, the girls and Rodriguez have settled in the Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park on the 1600 block of North Market Street in Champaign.
"I like that it's very comfortable here," Rodriguez said, speaking through a translator on a recent afternoon at Suds City, the park's on-site Laundromat.
Driving in or out of Champaign on North Market Street, it's easy to overlook the 265-unit mobile home park, tucked between Market and the Canadian National Railway, just south of Interstate 74.
In the past two decades, this out-of-the-way neighborhood has undergone dramatic changes. It has gone from having a rough reputation to being a place that, residents, employees and police say, is relatively quiet and safe. Over the past decade, Its poverty rate has risen to 41 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
But perhaps the most noticeable change is the wave of Hispanic residents, including Rodriguez and his daughters, who have moved into the park during the past 20 years.
In 1990, out of more than 600 residents in the Shadow area only about a dozen of were Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, there are 850 residents in the area, and about 600 of them - more than 70 percent of the population - are of Hispanic origin, according to new data from the 2010 census.
The increase has been particularly dramatic over the past decade. While the neighborhood's overall population increased by less than 50 percent from 2000 to 2010, the Hispanic population more than quadrupled, according to census data.
The Shadow Wood area now accounts for about 12 percent of the Hispanic population in the city of Champaign and about 6 percent in Champaign County. In 2000, it made up about 5 percent of the city's Hispanic population and about 3 percent of the county's.
Despite its improvements, Shadow Wood still faces a number of challenges.
In recent years, the percentage of area residents living below the poverty line appears to be on the rise, according to census estimates.
Many Shadow Wood residents are also isolated from their neighbors in the surrounding community by language barriers and a lack of public facilities in the area, said the Rev. Eugene Barnes, who runs Metanoia Centers, a community organization based a few blocks south of the mobile home park.
"It's not that there's a self-imposed exilic attitude from Shadow Wood," Barnes said. "They would love to be a part of what's going on in the community."
The lack of public facilities, such as a community center, is one of the issues addressed in Champaign's recently adopted long-term plan to revitalize the Bristol Park neighborhood, which includes Shadow Wood and the adjacent areas of Bristol Place and Garwood.
Mary Blue, Shadow Wood's office manager since 2002, said many working-class Hispanics have been attracted to the community in recent years because it safe and affordable. Residents purchase their homes and rent the lots on which they sit for $222 per month.
Heidi Zavaleta and her family were among the early part of this influx.
Zavaleta, 31, moved to Shadow Wood 10 years ago and has worked in the park's office for the past three years. She and her husband Juan Ramos, who works as a cook at the Champaign Country Club, decided to move there because it is an affordable place to live and own a home.
"I wanted to own my own place," said Zavaleta, a Mexico City native and mother of two. "I like the park . . . It's a nice neighborhood."
The exponential increase in Shadow Wood's Hispanic population is largely the result of word-of-mouth referrals. When homes are up for sale, residents tell their family, friends and co-workers who are looking for a place to live, Blue said.
Marc Lofman, who bought the park in 2004 for $3 million from longtime owner Warren Huddleston, said that's the way he likes to see things work.
"I believe we're doing a good job if we're getting a lot of referrals," Lofman, who is based in Chicago, said.
Sometimes, families or individuals who are new to the area will stay with someone they know until a mobile home becomes available.
When Rodriguez and his daughters first arrived, they stayed with another Colombian family who lives in the park. A few months later, a three-bedroom mobile home became available, and Rodriguez began the process of buying it.
Lofman, who has been in the manufactured-housing business since 1995, said he decided to purchase Shadow Wood because he saw it as an improving neighborhood.
That wasn't always the case, however.
Edward "Zig" Isaac, a former resident who is now in charge of maintenance for Shadow Wood, said that when he moved there in the late 1980s, many residents didn't feel safe leaving their windows open at night.
A short time later, Huddleston, who bought the park with Bud Parkhill in 1976 and became the sole owner 10 years later, took a more active role in the day-to-day operations, and things began to improve.
Huddleston began kicking out residents who were more than a year behind on their payments and replacing dilapidated homes with newer models. The park began attracting a "better clientele," Isaac said.
Huddleston died in June 2005, about a year after selling the park to Lofman.
Currently, there are only a handful of residents who regularly fail to pay their lot rent and other bills, Blue said.
Shadow Wood now runs criminal background checks on everyone who applies to live there and doesn't allow convicted felons to move into the community.
Lt. Jon Swenson, commander of the Champaign Police Department's north district, which includes the park, said this policy helps maintain a safe neighborhood.
"Mary and the employees up there do a good job pre-screening their tenants," Swenson said. "That's about as much as I can ask for."
From 2000 to 2010, Shadow Wood had fewer police incidents per resident than the adjacent neighborhoods of Bristol Place and Garwood, according to Champaign Police Department data.
"A lot of what we get called up there for is what I would call disorderly type behavior rather than criminal behavior," Swenson said. "No neighborhood is immune from crime."
Catherine Hobbs, 77, a longtime resident, said the area has been much safer since the late '90s, when the city demolished a nearby apartment complex that was a hotbed for drug sales.
"Problems usually came from the outside," she said.
The Green Apartments, formerly at 1311 and 1404 N. Market St., were "the focal point for criminal activity in the area, generating a significant amount of narcotics trafficking," according to city documents. The city purchased the properties in June 1998 and razed them a few months later.
These changes are part of what convinced Lester Berrio, 45, and her husband Max Abandja, 40, to purchase a home in Shadow Wood in 2004 after marrying the previous year.
They both have lived in Champaign for more than 20 years. Berrio, a native of Colombia, came to the area with her ex-husband, who had enrolled at the University of Illinois. Abandja also came to study at the UI, but didn't finish his degree because political unrest in Gabon, his family's West African nation, caused his scholarship funding to be cut off, he said.
Berrio and Abandja both used to think of Shadow Wood as an unsafe place. But when they began visiting Hispanic families in the neighborhood for church outreach, they noticed things had changed.
"Shadow Wood is not what it used to be like," Berrio said.
When a friend was looking to sell her home there, they decided to move in. They bought the home for $1,000 and put in a lot of work.
"The only thing that worked was the heater," said Berrio, whose son William from her first marriage has since moved into the park as well.
Berrio and Abandja work as translators for Carle Foundation Hospital and the Carle Clinic Association, and they also own a janitorial-services company. Much of their business involves cleaning apartment buildings on and around the UI campus between tenants during the summer months.
While the character of the neighborhood is improving, many of its residents still live in poverty, and that number appears to be increasing.
About 30 percent of Shadow Wood area residents were living below the poverty level at the time of the 2000 U.S. census, compared to about 22 percent citywide.
More recently, from 2005 through 2009, about 41 percent of area residents, on average, were living below the poverty line, compared to about 27 percent citywide, according to the most recent estimates from the Census Bureau.
Many of the parks residents work at local restaurants, hotels, stores and factories.
Rodriguez, the recent immigrant from Colombia, works full time at the Walmart in Savoy, cleaning the store on the overnight shift. He started out at $7.25 an hour and has worked his way up to earning about $10 an hour.
It is an improvement over his situation in Colombia, where he worked 14-hour days at a factory for Fleischmann's, the maker of yeast and other food products, he said.
"I like my job," he said.
In recent years, several organizations have stepped in to help meet the needs of Shadow Wood residents. Various groups have offered homework help for children and taught English classes for adults in a central unit owned by the park and commonly referred to as town hall.
More than a dozen kids who live in Shadow Wood participate in an after-school program at Champaign's Booker T. Washington Elementary School that pairs them with volunteer tutors from the UI. A professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science started the program in 2006 after parents from the mobile home park expressed concerns that their children were falling behind in school.
While the program, called Student Opportunities for After-School Resources, or SOAR, is now open to students throughout Washington School, Shadow Wood residents still make up about a third of its participants, said Lila Moore, volunteer program coordinator for the UI's Center for Education in Small Urban Communities.
Barnes, of Metanoia Centers, has helped bring mobile food pantries to the neighborhood and organized a back-to-school program to provide school supplies to children whose families could not afford them.
The city's Bristol Park neighborhood plan also addresses some of the need.
One of the long-term goals identified in the plan is the creation of a family resource center, which would provide after-school programs, job training and other services for residents of Shadow Wood, Bristol Place and Garwood.
One of the short-term goals is establishing block-watch groups in the three communities that can help monitor public safety in the area. So far, the idea hasn't generated a lot of interest from Shadow Wood residents, said Greg Skaggs, a community development specialist for the city who helped create the neighborhood plan.
"It's been a challenge," Skaggs said. "People tend to keep to themselves."
Over the years, the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center has helped more than 100 families who live in Shadow Wood. The group began in the early 1980s to help refugees from Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia, some of whom moved to the mobile home park. The group has since expanded its mission to assist immigrants who are not refugees.
Guadalupe Abreu, a bilingual outreach counselor who has been with the refugee center for 12 years, said some Hispanic families who live in the park sometimes have conflicts with the management because they are unfamiliar with the rules.
"To live in a mobile park is always different because you live under their rules, even though you think you own your own home," Abreau said.
A common complaint is that the park issues tickets to residents if someone who is coming to visit them is seen speeding through the park's private streets, she said
Because residents rent the lots on which their trailers sit, they are bound by the terms of their leases. Abreau said she encourages Spanish-speaking residents who move into Shadow Wood to bring their leases to the refugee center for translation so that they can be clear on all the rules.
Some Hispanic residents feel as though they are not treated equally but are afraid to voice their complaints for fear of raising questions about their immigration status, she said.
Rodriguez, who is a legal permanent resident, said this has not been his experience. A few times, management has mistakenly sent him a letter saying he missed a payment, but when he shows his receipts, they promptly correct the error.
"They listen to us," he said.
Residents said they are generally happy with Shadow Wood because of its affordability and its location near the commercial centers of North Prospect Avenue and North Neil Street. But they said they do see some opportunities for improvement.
Several residents said they wish the park had a larger playground for kids and some type of community center that could be rented out for parties or other events. The lack of lighting at night is also a concern, residents said.
But one of the major concerns is the lack of emergency shelter during tornadoes and other severe weather.
Lofman, the owner, said he also would like to install more street lights but doing so would be expensive. Because the park is private property, the city can't pick up any of the bill for lights as it could in other neighborhoods.
While he's happy in Shadow Wood for now, Rodriguez said he doesn't want to stay forever. He's seen other Colombian families move out of the park to bigger homes, and that's the path he wants to follow.
Although it will take him about five more years to finish paying for his mobile home, he tries to set aside money for a down payment on a house somewhere in Champaign.
"There's always a little bit left," he said. "I don't know how long it will take, but, as soon as I can, I will buy a house."
He is currently taking English classes at St. John's Catholic Newman Center on the U of I campus. By learning English, he hopes to earn a promotion at Walmart and eventually become a U.S. citizen, he said.
"We have done really well here for two years," Rodriguez said. "There are a lot of people who come here and think it's going to be really easy. We have worked very hard.
Cherry Orchard landlords to stand trial for code violations
The Cherry Orchard Village apartments lie just south of the abandoned Chanute Air Force Base near Rantoul - and like the base itself, Cherry Orchard has seen better days. Now the two landlords who manage the eight-building complex are charged with failing to maintain it - to the detriment of its tenants, mainly migrant worker families. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers has been collaborating with the investigative journalism group CU-Citizen Access, he reports on the legal battle to bring Cherry Orchard up to code.
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