Andrew Bruah

East Bluff—a historic neighborhood on the north side of Peoria, Illinois—had seen better days. Many of the area’s 1950s-era properties had deteriorated significantly or were left vacant. Others had been demolished completely.

Thanks to the Peoria Opportunities Foundation, that’s no longer the case. With the nonprofit’s help, East Bluff has been transformed. The neighborhood gained 30 new homes—a mix of single-family and duplexes, all designed with the ultimate energy efficiency in mind.

Andrew Bruah

"This project is helping change the neighborhood,” says Jane Genzel, executive director of Peoria Opportunities. “Where there were 25 vacant lots, there are now 20 single-family homes and five duplexes, which actually look like single-family homes. The homes fill in the gaps where dilapidated homes had been torn down."

The properties are now full—called home by dozens of low-income residents, many of them single mothers or seniors caring for grandchildren.

Residents of the $11.4 million East Bluff Homes enjoy a range of amenities. In addition, the homes help retain the historic charm of the neighborhood, boasting shake-siding gables and Craftsman-style dormers, among other features.

“Even on a limited budget, It is possible to achieve a level of design that uplifts the occupants and the surrounding community,” says Todd Wiltse, partner at WJW Architects. “As architects, the key is to adapt appropriately to the context, whether historic—in the case of East Bluff—or more modern elsewhere. Affordable housing should never take a cookie-cutter approach. That is the surest way to get community pushback and give the entire industry a bad name."