Decatur, Illinois Uses GIS to Prioritize $5 Million in Federal Funding to Revitalize Neighborhoods
The City of Decatur, Illinois, is like many cities in the Midwest in that it has seen significant population decline. Since 1980, the city has lost over one-fourth of its population. This led to blight issues and a lack of economic activity in its downtown area. To counter this problem, the city undertook a successful downtown revitalization plan in 2017, adding new commercial projects, a new community care center, and demolishing about 90 abandoned and derelict structures.
While the downtown has seen a rebirth and the outlying areas of the city are prospering, a ring of neighborhoods in between has continued to suffer blight and lack of economic growth. These neighborhoods include about 9,000 residences, or roughly one-third of all properties in the city. Economic and Community Development director Cordaryl "Pat" Patrick and leaders at the city found an opportunity to remedy this with the release of American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funds, specifically, the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) through the US Department of the Treasury. About $5 million of the award was set aside specifically for residential rehabilitation grants, which can be used by individual homeowners or landlords. The looming question was, How should the funds be distributed?
That's where the city's geographic information system (GIS), led by Seth Stark, came into play. In May 2022, the city used ArcGIS Survey123 to publish an app to the public that allowed residents to quickly and easily apply for money to rehabilitate their homes for projects such as a new roof, air conditioning, accessibility improvements, and structural repairs. Within the first day of the release of this survey, the city had received 200 applications, and over 400 by the end of the first week.
To process the applications, Stark utilized a dashboard created in ArcGIS Dashboards. This showed the number, location, and type of applications in near real time. After the applications were reviewed in mid-July, the dashboard was updated to show the status of the rehab grant applications and made available to city leaders and the public to provide transparency about the grant process. As the projects are undertaken and completed, this information will also be updated in the dashboard. The GIS can also be used to break down activity by neighborhood boundary, census tract, and so forth.
"GIS was the right choice for tracking these residential rehab lottery applications," said Stark. "The qualifications for grants are based on where you live within Decatur, so accepting the applications through Survey123, tracking their statuses, and analyzing where it is that the most help is needed was a natural fit for GIS."
The goal is for the rehabilitation to include all the residents of these designated neighborhoods, which in turn will benefit all city residents, as they will see increases in property values; neighborhood attractiveness; and, likely, economic growth and development.
"In 2019, we conducted a GIS-based housing condition survey, which helped us determine what areas of Decatur needed the most help with regards to revitalization. Now, we're building on that foundation to expand on the successes we've had with our downtown revitalization by spreading our resources into our urban core neighborhoods. GIS continues to be the tool that simplifies collecting and analyzing information so we can make data-based decisions in our efforts to move the needle towards success in Decatur."
—Cordaryl "Pat" Patrick, Director, Economic and Community Development, City of Decatur