Economic Alliance of Kankakee County excels in local housing opportunities

What would be music to the ears of Tim Nugent?

For the president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, who also serves as longtime mayor of Manteno, it would be a sound many would not consider relaxing nor soothing.

It would be a hammer pounding nails into a roof truss. It would be a power saw chewing through plywood or a two-by-four board. It would be a simmering torch soldering a bathroom pipe.

But beauty is in the eye — or ear — of the beholder, and the sound one of Kankakee County’s leaders would like to hear is the symphony of trades people performing the sweet music of residential construction.

For the leadership role taken by Nugent and the organization to spur new housing development, the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County is being honored with the Daily Journal’s 2023 Progress Award for Excellence in Real Estate.

Nugent has been beating the drum in an effort to get Kankakee County’s residential construction restarted after some 15 years of lackluster residential growth.

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

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

In addition, Erik Doersching, Tracy Cross president and CEO, informed the economic alliance as well as area and national home builders that the region could absorb 2,200 new dwellings through 2027.

There is great potential for residential growth here. The question is how to get this economic symphony making music once again.

Those dwellings, Doersching 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 at the recent release of his report is: 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 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.

“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.


The presentation to the economic alliance board 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.

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?” Nugent said. 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.”


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, duplexes 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 types 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.

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

Nugent 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. When it comes to $100, Kankakee County residents can get a little more than $108 worth of goods and services, according to the 2022 Composite Cost of Living Index.

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 as it is now 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, village of 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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March 25, 2023 at 08:16AM

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