Rockford to get $2.2M to demolish Keith Creek homes

By:  Jeff Kolkey
Rockford Register-Star

ROCKFORD — Rockford will use a $2.2 million federal grant announced Friday to help acquire and demolish 38 vacant houses in the Churchill Park neighborhood, an area adjacent to Keith Creek that was devastated by floods in 2006 and 2007.

Hundreds of homes were damaged. A virtual ghost town of ruined properties was left and over the years attracted illicit activity, said Jay Larson, Keith Creek Neighborhood Association vice president.

Neighbors are working more closely with police in Rockford and the Rockford Park District. And the more that vacant houses are demolished and turned into green space, the safer people feel, Larson said.

“The best way I can describe it is that I see people outside more now, they are out walking their dogs and walking through the park,” he said. “If that’s a better quality of life, then it seems to have improved.”

More than three dozen of the vacant houses have been demolished already. The grant will defray the cost of acquiring and demolishing 38 more as early as this winter, if all goes smoothly.

Larson said residents for years have been scared by a criminal element the empty homes attracted. And they were often too intimidated to confront or even phone police about the activity.

In an arrangement engineered by the city after the floods, Rockford Local Development Corp. acquired 112 of the worst-damaged homes in anticipation of state and federal grants.

Some of those grants have already been used to acquire and demolish 46 of them.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin announced the $2.2 million in Flood Hazard Mitigation Grant funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday afternoon in a news release.

“Today’s funding is welcome news for the residents and businesses who have been hit hard by devastating floods,” Durbin said in the release. “This additional assistance will help prevent future damage to homes and businesses in the Rockford area.”

Brian Eber, Rockford stormwater manager, said it will cost about $3 million to acquire and demolish the 38 houses. The balance of the cost, about 25 percent, is expected to come from a state grant through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The city is working to create a greenway of open space adjacent to the creek.

Eber said the city should receive the $2.2 million in a matter of weeks and is hopeful the demolition can be done by this winter. That will leave just 28 properties to demolish.