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Lake Co. wants older homes preserved
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/6/2009 1:59 PM

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A new initiative to identify and preserve older homes is being launched in Lake County.

Armed with a $50,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation, the intent by the Lake County Affordable Housing Corp. is to devise a countywide system of targeting and preserving older homes for working wage families and seniors.

What constitutes an older home? What resources are available? How should this work and what parties should be involved? All are questions to be answered by a steering committee of about 30 members from a range of interests to be introduced in January.

"When you have communities that have aging housing stock, how do you go about preserving those in the future?" asks Lisa Tapper, head of the housing agency.

"Lake County is reaching a point where we're more about preservation - the county is not in a place that it's looking at development."

The first step, to begin late this year, involves research to identify current and future opportunities countywide. To be funded by the grant, that would include an examination of available housing and the people that need affordable places to live.

Creating a program will be tricky because of the variety within Lake County's 52 communities. Tapper said the goal will be to maintain the individual character of the town while offering a range of housing options.

Narrowing the choices could be difficult as well. About 60 percent of the county's homes were built more than 30 years ago and many have not been routinely maintained. Many older summer homes were not designed for year-round living.

Most recently, foreclosures have created vacancies. In 2008, 4,124 Lake County homes were in foreclosure, an increase of 85 percent since 2006. Nearly 1,500 foreclosures were reported in the first quarter of this year, with many properties in dire need of improvement.

Lake County will receive $4.6 million in federal funds to combat foreclosures by buying and rehabbing those properties.

But the Lake County Preservation Initiative is planned as having a more general focus, and also will deal with occupied homes.

"The idea is to make available resources that private individuals can take advantage of," Tapper said. "I think it's something we're going to be seeing all over the place in the next decade."

The steering committee will work about 18 months analyzing data and developing a plan to be implemented in mid-2011.

The findings will be shared through a series of community meetings.

"We want to gain input beyond the 'usual suspects' involved in housing and community development," Lake County Board Chairman Suzi Schmidt said in a statement announcing the initiative.