Expert sees huge Kankakee County housing potential

BRADLEY — Kankakee County should be constructing upwards of 440 houses, apartments or condominiums annually to meet the needs of current and prospective residents.

According to a just-released study conducted by Tracy Cross & Associates Inc., a Schaumburg-based real estate consulting and analysis firm, Kankakee County is woefully behind in terms of new housing.

In addition, Erik Doersching, Tracy Cross president and CEO, informed those gathered at the recent February Economic Alliance of Kankakee County meeting that the region could absorb 2,200 new dwellings through 2027.

Those dwellings, he said, would be those needed to simply meet the demands of the county’s current population of about 105,000. He said there is even more potential when considering those who would like to call Kankakee County home.

The report was produced through a $16,750 allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds from the Kankakee County Board to the economic alliance.

The question Doersching expressed to those gathered for the economic alliance meeting: How does the region hit the demand of the market?

Simply put, he said, Kankakee County’s housing supply is “extremely limited” despite ample demands.

Now whether the 440 figure is realistic or an overreach, there is no dispute among those taking the pulse of this industry that there is a pent-up demand for new homes in Kankakee County.

Whether those homes are high-end dwellings in the $400,000 range, mid-level in the $225,000 to $325,000 price point, or are condos or apartments, all agree Kankakee County is due an expansion regarding residential construction.

“I agree with just about everything in this report,” said Tina Franklin, president of the Kankakee-Iroquois-Ford Association of Realtors, in reference to the 23-page housing planning build lines Tracy Cross produced for the economic alliance.

Now whether Kankakee County could absorb 440 dwellings or 200 units can be debated, but one thing most agreed upon is the region needs an influx of new housing. And the housing needs to be across the board in terms of size and price.

“This report is really an affirmation of what so many of us have thought,” Franklin said.


The presentation to the economic alliance board and gathered officials noted two key points: There has been a lack of all types of residential construction dating back to 2008 when the housing market collapsed leading to the Great Recession. Secondly, housing developments will likely need to be assisted by economic benefits such as sales tax relief on building materials in targeted development areas.

The alliance is moving forward creating rules for the Enterprise Zone which includes Manteno, Momence, Grant Park, Hopkins Park and some unincorporated areas where sales taxes can be abated to help lower construction. Perhaps easing back on property taxes for the first few years.

The rebates would lower construction costs and allow builders to be more creative and build the type of dwellings consumers demand.

“We have had enterprise zones for manufacturing, and it has worked. Why not for homebuilding?” said Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance. He is hoping new language can be ready for adoption by the participating communities by fall 2023.

“Without a doubt the Kankakee County region is under-built,” Franklin added. “I’m talking all types of housing, for all income ranges. We have buyers. We just don’t have houses available.”

One local house builder who was able to weather the subprime mortgage crisis, which fueled the recession of 15 years ago, also noted there is no debate that home builders who remain in Kankakee County do not have the ability to construct the number of structures needed to fulfill the appetite of buyers.

Jerry Curwick, owner of Manteno-based Curwick Home Builders, said the Great Recession knocked many builders out of business.

Curwick constructed about 60 units in 2022. What that number will be in 2023 is of course unknown, but he stressed there is no way 440 units can be built without national builders moving their crews within Kankakee County’s borders.

He believes there is demand, as well, from buyers.

It was a routine occurrence during the past 24-30 months for homebuyers to come to grips with paying a home seller more than the property’s listing price. Most properties had multiple offers exceeding the asking price.

The reason for such bidding wars was the fact the market did not have enough available houses to satisfy the demand.

Curwick said there is still a pent-up demand for new construction.

“For the number of homes they are talking about, we don’t have the builder inventory,” he said. “We would need to have some of the national homebuilders come here. Independent builders do not have that kind of cash flow.”

Curwick is hopeful residential projects which have been on the drawing boards for the past several years can finally be wiped clean of the dust settling on them and put into action.

He said many new-construction seekers he has been in contact with are from outside the county limits. He believes the wave of homebuyers may already be on their way.


The Tracy Cross report noted of the yearly 440 new units projected to be needed in Kankakee County, 150 would be single-family homes and another 80 would be townhomes, duplex and condos.

The remaining 210 would be rental property.

Doersching stressed not all people want to own their property. The region must provide a wide variety of housing.

He said all type of units must be considered. Some would need ample green space, others would not.

He said many younger buyers lack the time or the desire to maintain a yard. Housing developments have long been moving in the direction of homeowner association maintained green spaces, walking trails, swimming pools and club houses.

The region must be open to all of it.

From 2013-2021 Kankakee County has had 180 multi-family units constructed. In five of those years, there were zero multi-family units constructed.

Nugent, who is also Manteno’s mayor, said multi-family units are needed just as single-family dwellings are desired.

“Not everyone wants a three-bedroom home with an attached garage. What do outsiders want in terms of housing?” Nugent asked.

He said Kankakee County has a less-expensive cost of living. He noted based on national averages, what would cost $100 for goods and services nationally, costs Kankakee County residents $90.80, according to data from The Council for Community and Economic Research.

Data such as that provides the region with another sales feature.


Nugent acknowledged the 440-unit figures can be somewhat startling at first glance.

“Look back 20 years ago. We were building 500, 600, 800 homes here a year,” Nugent said. “Was that sustainable? Probably not. Is 400 doable? I believe that is a sustainable figure for this marketplace.”

Nugent said this past 12-to-15-year stretch could be described as a “new housing desert” here.

“House construction may have been too plentiful in previous years,” he said. “But our school enrollments have declined. We have room to add students.”

He said fear of the unknown can be a very real deterrent. He reasoned people may be comfortable with Kankakee County in terms of population and resources.

Only a few miles away from Manteno sits Bourbonnais. The community was once seeing more homes and rental properties built than it could handle.

Like the rest of Kankakee County, it is thirsting for new residential development.

Mike Van Mill, Bourbonnais administrator, said the time has come to take steps to inspire development.

He is still digesting the Tracy Cross report.

“It would be great to get some single-family housing going,” Van Mill said. “If we are looking at $275,000-to-$325,000 houses, how do we close the gap to make it attractive. … We need all different types of housing options. That’s how we get people here and how we keep people here.”

Region: Northern,Region: Kankakee,Feeds,News,City: Kankakee

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February 18, 2023 at 08:02AM

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