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Year in Review 2015: Southwestern Illinois
 
Homebuyer program, Hackathon help Highland lure interest

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    HIGHLAND — Seven homeowners so far have jumped at the chance to be part of the city’s plan to reinvest in its oldest housing.
    The Highland Community Development Department’s Homebuyer Down Payment and Closing Cost Assistance Program is getting widespread interest, Assistant City Manager Lisa Peck said.
    “We’ve had seven closings. There have been people who have moved into town because of the program,” she said. Some of the houses were foreclosures and “in pretty rough shape.” They are now being renovated.
    The program, launched in the middle of 2015, is for assistance with non-rental, owner-occupied properties. It is not limited to first-time homebuyers and there are no upper income limitations. Eligible properties are within a historic area of the city bordered by Hemlock Street on the west, Poplar Street on the east, Sixth Street on the north, and 21st Street on the south.
    Most of the houses closed to date have been north of Broadway, she said.
    “Everybody loves the fact that in this area you can walk to anything — the schools, the pool, the library, the theater, the grocery store,” Peck said.
    The program aims to help stabilize assessed valuation by preserving the older housing stock by encouraging homeownership in existing single family homes, using forgivable, five-year, $3,000 loans.
    The program provides assistance with the down payment and closing costs. Many people are able to afford monthly house payments, but not the up-front cash, Peck said.
    The housing program was a highlight of a busy year in the city, which saw many new businesses and renovations, including at two major car dealerships.
    Tri Ford, 12610 State Route 143, has a new, $1.3 million showroom, offices and repair shop. Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc. of Highland rebuilt the slightly larger facility.
    Steve Schmitt Chevrolet Buick GMC is nearing completion on 11,300-square-foot auto body and paint shop and service area at 12631 State Route 143. Plocher Construction of Highland was awarded the $1.2 million project.
    This year will continue good things, Peck said, pointing out that the second annual Highland Gigabit Challenge will take place March 11-13 and will feature Southwestern Illinois’ first “Hackathon.” Tech-savvy competitors will match wits to see who can best help businesses solve complex coding, app and security problems.
    The city is negotiating with major sponsors to put on the event, which will be held at 2491 Industrial Court, the former Tri-Onics site.
    Anyone wanting more information may contact Peck at (618) 654-3592 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Nancie Zobrist of the Highland Chamber of Commerce, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (618) 654-3721.