Governor Eric Holcomb’s request that the Moving Forward community program assist displaced East Chicago residents has achieved an added benefit: the participation of resident advisers. Developers chosen for Moving Forward 3.0 have already scored important insights that will help guide plans for new, energy-efficient housing.

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) and Energy Systems Network (ESN) launched the Moving Forward program in 2015 to abate the hurdles of housing and transportation costs for low-income residents, while also incorporating key energy technologies.

IHCDA executive director Jacob Sipe says the four housing designs begun in 2015 and 2016 laid important groundwork to jumpstart two programs in Lake County when the governor issued his disaster declaration for East Chicago. Residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex were forced to evacuate their homes because of lead contamination, and the complex was condemned. The governor’s call for affordable rental housing in East Chicago came in February; by November resident advisers were sitting down with developers.

Six teams responded to IHCDA’s request for development proposals in Lake County. One project will be designated specifically for East Chicago and another site will be determined as community needs are clarified. The developers chosen for the Lake County projects are UP Development of Chicago and Miller-Valentine Group of Dayton, OH. They join other developers and community action agencies already participating in Moving Forward 1.0 (Fort Wayne and Bloomington) and Moving Forward 2.0 (Indianapolis and Lafayette). The Fort Wayne project broke ground this fall.

“In the past we haven’t narrowed it down so closely to a specific city so early in the process, especially in relationship to an environmental issue,” explains Sipe. “The big piece we really brought to light in East Chicago was how important it was to engage with potential residents. We reached out to some of the residents relocated from the West Calumet apartments to have them join the discussion. They gave us a real-life perspective on accessibility, how they would interact with the different ideas on transportation and housing, how we think about being energy efficient. How close are schools and jobs and public transportation?”

Sipe says the two-day workshop, sponsored by ESN, was a different type of forum for representatives of UP Development and Miller-Valentine Group. Typically, would-be developers hear from residents in hearings and other public venues, not offering life-experience advice during brainstorming efforts.

“Everyone listened and wanted to provide solutions to the concerns they were bringing up. How close we can get to addressing every concern remains to be seen, but everyone – the residents, our experts, the developers – were all engaged in understanding the challenges and the stress they’ve been experiencing. I hope we’ve raised the bar in making sure our potential residents have the opportunity to provide important feedback.”

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IHCDA Executive Director Jacob Sipe says residents remain eager to take part in development plans.