PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — As the former McKinley and Harrison Schools in South Peoria are torn down, Peoria community leaders are mapping out what comes next.

“McKinley school is down. Ride by there, it looks great. The ugly monstrosity is gone and the neighbors are very grateful for that,” said Peoria Mayor Rita Ali.

Housing experts with The Counselors of Real Estate, a national real estate consulting firm, visited Peoria multiple times over the course of six months. They created a comprehensive report with recommendations about how to inject investment into the Southside.

Ali said they are looking to turn CRE’s recommendations into reality.

“It’s a big area and there’s a lot of opportunity for what will happen in that space. But we don’t want to do it in a vacuum. We want the voices of the residents, of the community involved in making that decision,” said Ali.

Ali said Habitat for Humanity is considering building single-family homes in the McKinley lot.

“We can actually accommodate potentially five to six single-family homes each year moving forward in that year,” she said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, homeownership in 61605 sits at about 39 percent. That’s down considerably from the national average of 66 percent.

Armeca Crawford, CEO of Peoria Housing Authority, said the PHA owns a significant portion of 30 acres surrounding the former Harrison School that they are looking to develop into homes.

PHA and the city are applying for a $500,000 federal grant through Choice Neighborhoods, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that supports “locally driven strategies that address struggling neighborhoods with distressed public or HUD-assisted housing through a comprehensive approach to neighborhood transformation.”

“What we’re looking to do is spark neighborhood revitalization. We want to bring to the neighborhood, more than just rehabbed rooftops, or demolition and new rooftops…We want to take care of the people, take care of the existing residents, creating opportunity, creating economic growth,” said Crawford.

However, Crawford said they can’t do it alone, as they need community input.

“We have an opportunity to do something amazing in 61605…We need the city, we need other stakeholders, we need grassroot organizations. We need the die-hard community leaders that have been doing this and keeping 61605 afloat all this time,” she said.

The deadline for the Choice Neighborhood grant application is the first week of June. Crawford said they will find out if they are approved by the end of the year.

Crawford added she is looking to have the “action to start now.”

“What we want to happen is have this plan materialize. We don’t want this to be another topic that we’re discussing for the next 10 years. What we hope to see is timelines developed and actions taken, some accountability in place,” she said.