Vacant Lot Disposition Program Creates Opportunity for Unique Affordable Housing Options

The Neighborhood Services Department (NSD) Programs Division administers the vacant lot disposition program on behalf of the City. A key goal of the program is to identify suitable reuse options for vacant City-owned lots throughout Champaign. In some instances, lot size and location reduce a lot’s desirability and development possibilities. These situations call for innovative and unique strategies to overcome these challenges to redevelopment. They also present the City with an opportunity to engage local nonprofit partners to support the creation of unique affordable housing alternatives. Two recent projects illustrate this approach.

The Mini Home project was developed in partnership with Restoration Urban Ministries, First Mennonite Church, and CU at Home. In early 2020, pastoral staff from the First Mennonite Church, NSD staff, and a few downtown business owners began working on long-term housing options for a member of our homeless community. NSD staff connected First Mennonite Church with Restoration Urban Ministries to see if there might be interest in working together to create a permanent housing opportunity on a vacant lot previously donated to Restoration Urban Ministries by the City. Within a few months, Restoration Urban Ministries donated an undersized lot to CU at Home, who agreed to serve as the owner/landlord, while the First Mennonite Church raised funds and provided volunteers to work with a local construction company to build the Mini Home. A groundbreaking was held in October 2020 and the home passed final inspection in January 2021. Pictures of the Mini Home are included below and the total cost of construction is estimated to be $35,000.

Restoration Urban Ministries also built another Mini Home in Champaign and sold the home to a participant in one of the programs operated by Restoration Urban Ministries.

Another innovative project built on a vacant lot provided by the City is the Solar Home project developed by the University of Illinois Solar Decathlon project. The Solar Home was developed as part of a national competition to incorporate new green building strategies into the development of a residential unit. A key objective of the project was to reduce the carbon footprint of the residential unit, therefore, the project incorporates a significant number of cutting-edge building techniques, including a solar roof, green building materials and processes, and the reuse of greywater throughout the structure. The new home was built as a demonstration project to showcase new green building techniques and products. The construction of this new home on a previously vacant City-owned lot will allow it to be utilized as housing by Habitat for Humanity. The local Habitat for Humanity chapter will administer and maintain the property and serve as owner/landlord.