Both the city of Kankakee and Kankakee County received identical $175,000 grants from the Illinois Housing Development Authority board on Dec. 21.

The grants were part of $10 million awarded under the new Strong Communities Program, the initiative that will provide funding to 68 units of local governments and land bank authorities for the acquisition, maintenance, rehabilitation and demolition of abandoned residential properties in their communities, according to a news release from IHDA.

“We both applied for it at the same time,” Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler said. “We both got it, so I’m really happy to see that.”

Wheeler said the city and the county are going to work out a land bank. It’s going to be a regional land bank where it can buy residential properties that are delinquent; rehab them and get them back on the market.

“It’s a partnership between the city and county, and if there are no hiccups, it will start in February,” Wheeler said. “We approved it to be put in a land bank, which can be viable.”

Barbi Brewer-Watson, executive director of the Economic and Community Development Agency for the city of Kankakee, said the grant will help address abandoned properties in the city and part of its blight strategy for vacant lots.

“The grant helps us with that work and the land bank partnership that we are working on with the county right now,” Brewer-Watson said. “By each one of our entities having this funds to work on the abandoned properties, these vacant lots, we will be able to leverage those resources a lot further to make the land bank strategy work.”

The SCP will help address local affordable housing needs and community revitalization efforts for many local governments that lack capital needed to tackle this blight. The program is funded by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital plan, the first capital plan in nearly a decade.

“This innovative program will restore or remove abandoned buildings in communities across the state, creating jobs and new housing opportunities for Illinois residents in need,” said Pritzker in the release.

Wheeler said the land bank can also address commercial properties that have been shuttered and get those back on the market, too.

“We’ll have an employee whose sole job is to do this,” he said. “On the residential side, it’s a tool. It’s fantastic for commercial, too. It’s a real economic development tool.”

Brewer-Watson said it’s exciting to have the quasi-governmental agreement to tackle the problem.

“By having the two of us working in partnership on reducing blight throughout the city of Kankakee and the county, we’re really going to be able to leverage all of that money and make it last,” she said. “Just make it go further than it would’ve if we were doing it on our own.”

Wheeler said if there’s not enough resources, it won’t work. The consortium can help rehab commercial properties that have been shuttered

“You have to have money coming in and going out,” he said. “... We want it to be regional, so Bradley, Bourbonnais and Manteno can join it.”

Brewer-Watson said the city has been identifying vacant properties and lots since the ECDA was started in October of 2019. Most have been abandoned by the owner and have been sold on the tax sales multiple times. They want to sell the properties to a residential developer who can rehab the property and then sell to a homeowner or rent it out to get it back on the property tax roles.

“That is the ultimate goal of any blight-reduction strategy,” she said.

The city has identified about 112 properties that fit that qualify for this program.

“Things will change once we start working together,” Brewer-Watson said. “It also depends on the residential, rehab construction companies and developers because they may have identified a property, too. ... We’ll work with those developers, too.”

A 2012 Federal Reserve study found that vacant and abandoned properties threaten the very sustainability of communities, according to the IDHA release. A home that is simply foreclosed, but not vacant, lowers neighboring property values by up to 3.9 percent. If a home is foreclosed, tax delinquent and vacant, however, it can lower neighboring property values by nearly two and a half times that amount.