By Nathan Heuer
Jefferson County residents were provided with an opportunity to voice their desires and concerns with the housing situation in the county on Thursday at the Parkview Apartments in Fairbury.
Keelan Associates, P.C. hosted the “housing listening sessions” as a part of a housing study that will help determine strategies for affordable housing.
“The purpose of the study, one of the primary purposes is not only to serve as a springboard for implementing new housing, but also secure money both public and private to get some of this paid for,”  Keelan Associates principal partner Tim Keelan said. “We’re going to do the study and in the study, the study identifies what the need and demand is. Then inside that study in their somewhere at the tail end there will be a five-year action plan that deals with the implementation.”
Keelan attended Thursday’s meetings and said that approximately 15 people came to the sessions. He added that feedback was largely directed towards affordable rental housing and entry level housing for ownership.
“There was a lot of emphasis on more improved, affordable rental housing for families. Three bedroom plus. There’s also quite a bit of discussion on entry level, ownership, affordable housing. Affordable entry level housing for ownership,” Keelan said. “We had a small attendance. At Fairbury I probably had 15 or so. Then at Daykin and Plymouth we had a small group too.”
The listening sessions will aid the completion of a five-year action plan that Keelan projected will be done in 30 to 60 days.
Coinciding with the listening sessions is collaboration with the county’s steering committee, who will help with the implementation phase of the plan.
“We work with the steering committee and we talk about implementation. The housing study itself they’ll be a five-year action plan. It will identify very specific projects and then we’ve been working with this point to talk about implementation. That’s they key thing and I think you kind of hit on it there. You got this study but how do you get it out there and get things built,” Keelan said.

Implementation will include seeking out developers and different programs for projects for housing in the different communities. 

Alongside the listening sessions and meetings with the county’s steering committee lies a pair of surveys that we’re collected by Keelan Associates at the beginning of March. The information collected  is a part of the quantitative data that is used to form the five-year action plan. 

A total of 155 residents from Jefferson County responded to the county-wide citizen survey and 68 people replied to the workforce housing needs survey, which saw input from employees at Jefferson Community Health and Life, Westin Packaged Meats, City of Fairbury, Fairbury Public Schools, and Blue Valley Community Action Partnership.

Keelan was pleased with the number of surveys returned and says the convenience of turning in a survey versus taking time out of your day to attend a meeting is usually the preferred choice from residents in any given county.

“We had an excellent response to the survey, 155 surveys something like that where people weighed in. A lot of times we kind of find, give the option of survey or going to some sort of listening session or both. We find out, our feeling is a lot of people find a survey easier to do and a lot less time consuming as to take time out of their schedule to go to a meeting,” he said.

Similar to the listening session, data from the county-wide citizen survey points to more houses needing to be built for middle-income families along with rental housing for all incomes. A total of 65 surveys showed a great need for middle income housing while 53 surveys showed a great need for rental housing.

Primary issues with obtaining affordable, suitable housing for any given household were housing prices and cost of utilities for home owners. The categories had 37 responses apiece on surveys.

For renters, 24 of the people who were surveyed stated that the lack of availability of decent rental units in your their price range was the main issue in obtaining affordable, suitable housing.

Other categories that received at least 50 tallies in the greatly needed column on the county-wide citizen survey includes: single family housing, rehabilitation of renter-occupied housing, housing choices for first-time homebuyers, apartments or houses with three plus bedrooms.

In contrast to the various responses, 87 of 115 that answered the question “are you satisfied with your current housing situation?” said yes while 28 said no. That translates to 75 percent of the people who answered the question are satisfied with their current situations.

On the workforce housing survey, numbers proved to be similar with the same question. Of the 55 who answered, 42 (76 percent) were satisfied with their current housing situation.