Workers Making Move out of Country Expensive House Could Drive Labor Force out, Experts Predict

Article excerpt

Byline: Amy E. Williams Daily Herald Staff Writer

Leticia Placon has to drag herself out of bed at least an hour earlier now to make the trek to work.

Placon and her husband searched for a home they could afford closer to her accounting job in Woodstock, but all they found was a cramped condominium, not nearly large enough for their three children.

For about the same price - $119,000 - they bought a three- bedroom, 2,500-square-foot house in Poplar Grove, 32 miles away in Boone County.

So now, Placon has at least an hour-long commute each way, each day. She says she's so tired of it, she'd consider leaving Guardian Electric, where she's worked for three years, just to take a job near her new home.

"Some days I really regret moving out there," she said. "I'm getting scared about what it'll be like to drive this far in the winter.

"But there was just nothing we could afford around here," Placon said. "It would be nice if I could find some place to work closer to home."

McHenry County economic development officials say Placon is not alone. The lack of affordable housing is forcing more and more McHenry County workers to search for homes outside of the county.

Eventually, they say, the scarcity of affordable homes could do more than just shut lower-income workers out of the local market. They say the county's long-term economic health may actually hinge on its supply of affordable homes.

"As McHenry County grows, affordable housing is not something we can sweep under the rug," said Jim Dinkle, president of the McHenry County Economic Development Corporation. "There are a number of problems that could result."

In addition to causing commuting nightmares, a lack of affordable homes may eventually push employees, such as Placon, who are forced to live outside of the county because of the high costs, to look closer to home for jobs. That, in turn, may start depleting the county's work force, said Wally Davis, a housing market researcher with Hoffman Estates-based American Metro/Study Corp.

Businesses with manufacturing and service jobs may then be reluctant to move to the county, and could even relocate to areas where the employees can afford to live, Davis said.

That could eventually impact existing residents, who would be forced to pay higher taxes if there isn't a balance between the residential and commercial tax base, economic development officials warn.

Regional planners aren't expecting every community to stave off the potential problems by securing its own supply of affordable housing.

But municipalities in the area must at least have housing options for employees with entry-level professional jobs and blue collar jobs if the county is to remain economically healthy, Dinkle said.

Many of those municipalities are trying to balance their tax base by attracting retail and industrial businesses, which is a step in the right direction, he said.

But as they attract new commercial and industrial centers that draw in the tax dollars, they're neglecting the housing necessary for employees of those businesses, said Javier Placencia, a real estate agent and member of the Corporation for Affordable Homes in McHenry County.

In Lake in the Hills, which has seen several new businesses open along Randall Road in the past couple of years, there haven't been any new proposals for affordable housing. Instead, many employees must commute from more affordable communities such as Elgin and Carpentersville, Village President Scott Berg said.

"In the village we realize the need for more diversified housing based on the job market that's currently in the area and coming to the area," Berg said. "But no one's asked us for it, and we haven't seen any proposals for it. More often we see proposals for single family homes in the upper prices, starting at $170,000.

"It can cause problems because it's harder to get workers and they have to drive in here," he said. …