House construction

A home builder works on the construction of a new house Kankakee County in this 2015 photograph. New house construction has been slow to return to the pace prior to the Great Recession and local officials are discussing ways to kickstart the house-building industry.

Between 2000 to 2009, there were 3,649 new houses built in unincorporated Kankakee County, Manteno, Bradley and Bourbonnais. From 2010 to 2020, the number crumbled like a house constructed from twigs as only 890 were built.

The 890 figure represents less than 25 percent of the houses built in the previous 10 years.

Since the Great Recession — which has devastated the Kankakee County housing construction market since 2009 — new home construction here has been nearly as scarce as a mask-free social gathering.

While the house construction has returned to many areas across the country, it has been as slow as a jammed nail gun within Kankakee County for the better part of 12 years.

While the area has experienced business expansions and investments and growth in the labor market, housing is not following suit.

New housing, by almost every measurable scale, has yet to recover to its pre-Great Recession rate in Kankakee County. And it is not even close.

While there have been new single-family homes built here and there, the lack of any sustained presence here is causing some leaders to consider outside-of-the-box options to restart the beating heart of house construction.

Count Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County and Manteno mayor, among those willing to take a somewhat more aggressive approach on this matter.

Nugent, at this past week’s economic alliance board meeting, said he will bring the idea of expanding boundaries of the county’s two Enterprise Zones to include properties suited for housing developments.

This tactic would be a significant shift for Enterprise Zones. These zones, established within Kankakee County many years ago, were put in place to spur manufacturing and job growth, not residential growth.

Nugent reasons the time has come, at least in his mind, to sweeten the pot for residential development.

He said this plan is not about the difficult year of 2020, but rather a decade-long situation in which new homes are simply not being built here. He said in 2020 there were 85 permits issued for new houses. In 2005 and 2006, at the peak of new house construction here, there were 700 to 800 permits issued annually.

Home construction is often used as a measuring stick of community’s health.

“This is a whole industry which has been largely wiped out,” Nugent said. “I think we might have come to the time where we need to sacrifice some fees and short-term taxes for long-term growth.”

What Nugent is discussing — and a concept he plans to bring to the Enterprise Zone board meeting this week — is redefining the boundaries of these zones to include property suitable for new housing.

If that concept falls on welcoming ears, Nugent believes the short-term loss of sales taxes on home-building products and property tax abatements for new owners of the houses in these enterprise zones, will be made up in the long run.

In addition, the new housing could reverse the trend of Kankakee County losing population.

“If the industry was thriving we wouldn’t need to do anything. But we need to jumpstart this industry,” he said. “We give up something today for more tomorrow.”

Kankakee County is home to two Enterprise Zones. The Kankakee River Valley Enterprise Zone includes portions of Aroma Park, Kankakee, Herscher, Bradley, Bourbonnais and unincorporated Kankakee County. The is the Kankakee County Enterprise Zone which includes portions of Manteno, Momence and unincorporated Kankakee County.

Nugent said the boundaries of the zones would need to be altered to capture property suited for houses.

Existing Kankakee County houses are selling rapidly and for good prices. However, there are those who want a new house and developers are not building new subdivisions. This plan may be a way, Nugent said, to get contractors to start building.

“We still want jobs, of course, but we also need people. I think we need to modernize our Enterprise Zones. Home building has been in doldrums. Since 2009 we largely haven’t done anything.”

The Daily Journal’s Lee Provost write about local business rumors, comings and goings and other notes of interest. Anyone with information to share should contact Provost at lprovost@daily-journal.com or 815-937-3364.

Lee Provost, an award-winning reporter, has been writing local news stories for The Daily Journal since 1988. He is a lifelong resident of the region. Provost can be reached at lprovost@daily-journal.com.