Hill Street Neighborhood development in Mt. Morris hopes to break ground by spring 2025

$10 million project funded by the IHDA aims to integrate people with and without disabilities


MT. MORRIS — The Village of Progress and Kreider Services have plans for The Hill Street Neighborhood development in Mt. Morris in the coming years. The duplex apartment project is planned to serve both people with disabilities and people from the general population.

Plans include 24 units in 12 duplexes and a four-acre public park with walkways to access the park for all units. There will also be a community building open to anyone in Mt. Morris and acreage for future expansion. The $10 million project will be funded by the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

Village of Progress Executive Director Brion Brooks and Kreider Services Executive Director Jeff Stauter said The Hill Street Neighborhood will provide a new living option for people with disabilities, which typically only include living with parents or in a group home. People with disabilities living in the Hill Street Neighborhood will be able to choose their own services, an option not seen in group homes.

“In a group home if you don't like the service, you can't stay in the house,” Brooks said. “If you don't like the house but you like the service, you can't stay in the house. With our idea where we're just the landlord with a few safety nets, the individual with disabilities picks their own service providers. They can change the service providers if they want to and stay in the same duplex. And they can move to a different duplex and keep their service provider. They're more in control than they would be in a traditional group home and they have more independence than they would if they stayed with their parents.”

The Hill Street Neighborhood will have a full-time staff member to service its tenants. Half of the duplexes would be occupied by people without disabilities. The apartments will be affordable housing, but at a level of 50 percent of the area median income rather than the typical 30  percent.

Stauter said the duplexes will be uniform with those in the subdivision next door and that the development won’t stand out from other areas of Mt. Morris. Hill Street will be extended for the development. 

“Building an actual integrated neighborhood is the important thing with this,” Stauter said. “We want it to be a regular neighborhood where people know their neighbors. We want people without disabilities living there to be working and be good examples and role models for people with disabilities. We want it to be a cooperative community and we want them to see others getting up and going to work and taking care of their house. The houses will be nice and each will be different. We want it to fit in with the town. A lot of people with disabilities aspire to the average, normal life that people expect. Controlling their space and having a job and friends and neighbors. We want it to be an average small-town neighborhood and just another street in town.”

The four-acre park and path are designed to draw people to the neighborhood, so it isn’t isolated. Stauter said the Village of Mt. Morris and its residents have been supportive of the project.

Brooks said work on the project started a few years ago and Mt. Morris was chosen as its location because the community was receptive to it and the village is small and walkable with the right amenities.  The 20 acres of land will be purchased from a farmer that owns the land.

“Walkability is important for the grant we went for with the Illinois Housing Development Authority,” Stauter said. “It's within a few blocks of pharmacies, banks, restaurants, a grocery store and gas stations. That combination of having affordable property in a walkable community and support from the village made it a nice fit.”

The Village of Progress has been serving adults with developmental disabilities in Ogle County since 1969. Kreider Services provides direct care programs to persons with developmental disabilities.

The first phase of the project includes six acres for the development and four acres for the park, which will be the only park in the northeast quadrant of Mt. Morris. The remainder of the property will be held in reserve for possible future phases, which may be more market-based housing or privately-owned residences.

Brooks and Stauter hope to close on the property and have the documents signed for the project by the end of 2024. The hope for groundbreaking is spring of 2025 with completion by spring of 2026.

While Kreider Services has long worked in the residential services arena, Stauter called the Hill Street Neighborhood project “the most complicated” he’s done in his entire career. There’s not another project like it in the state and Stauter and Brooks don’t know of one like it in the United States.

“I spent 20 years as a lawyer, I've been a pastor for 10 years and I've done this for 10 years,” Brooks said. “Of everything I've done, this will be the most rewarding to encourage people with and without disabilities to live in a community together. The Village Bakery was only a $500,000 project with one building. This is something that affects people 24/7, 365 days a year. It's a dream come true for me.”

Stauter said there’s a large need for housing for people with disabilities. People have already called to inquire about availability and construction hasn’t even begun. In his work with the Village Bakery in Oregon and in other VOP work, Brooks has seen the impact that every-day experiences can have on those with disabilities.

“Taking someone out of an institutional setting and giving them experiences outside of it, it can make a big impact on them,” Brooks said. “We want people in the community experiencing things. I used to get the mail every morning, until we started having one of the VOP's attendees go to do it each day with a supervisor. Our people loved it. Things like that expand their universe. Living in the Hill Street Neighborhood, they'd be doing things shopping and cooking with an assistant. The ability to give people a choice in their lives will help make our residents become normal members of society. That's what our goal is, to help give them the tools to live as normal a life as they can.”