EAST PEORIA — "Average," offered Kristin Berchtold, her one-word assessment of the state of the property in her view Thursday morning from a residential sidewalk.

The front steps sagged. The roof needed the working end of a shingling hatchet. The windows looked like they might have once freely opened and shut, but maybe not in the current century.

"Average, you think?," answered Nick Mitchell, repeating the call. "Or fair?"

A brief discussion ensued. The pair settled on "fair." Mitchell logged the information and clicked a photo with his tablet. They moved down the sidewalk to the next house.

Berchhold and Mitchell work for the South Side Office of Concern. She's the director of development; he's the vice president of housing and community development. On Thursday they canvassed the neighborhood located behind the Kroger grocery store on Main Street stopping at every commercial property. At each one, they judged the condition of the structure on the lot and rated it on a scale of poor to excellent, then repeated the process at the next property.

It's a community project and partnership with South Side Office of Concern, the city of East Peoria and the Illinois Housing Development Authority. The city is undertaking the housing assessment, with the help of South Side Office of Concern with the plan to help access potential housing assistance offered by the housing authority. The data collected by Mitchell and his revolving team of volunteers, will be put to a wide array of uses.

"(IHDA) has programs available with low-interest loans to provide as my homeowners as they can with the necessary resources for the maintenance and repair of their homes," said Glen Wetterow, the Geographic Information Systems/Planning and Zoning Coordinator for the city of East Peoria. "South Side Office of Concern and its interest in community development is a resource that we wouldn't be able to duplicate on our own. We appreciate the help with this."

The city identified three neighborhoods that could use some help; the Richland Neighborhood (with 356 different addresses), the East Peoria Community High School neighborhood (335 addresses) and the neighborhood around and behind the Kroger grocery store on East Washington Street (451 address) help homeowners.

Properties were given one of five designations:

Excellent. Features no deferred maintenance, little or no physical depreciation and requires no repairs.

Good. Well maintained and feature limited physical depreciation due to normal wear and tear.

Average. Features some minor deferred maintenance and physical deterioration due to normal wear and tear. All major building components have been adequately maintained and are functionally adequate.

Fair. Features obvious deferred maintenance and is need of some significant repairs. Overall livability is somewhat diminished.

Poor. Substantial damage or deferred maintenance or defects that are severe enough to affect the safety, soundness or structural integrity of the property.

In three days of looking, Mitchell recorded just one "poor" property and a couple of "excellent" properties. The vast majority fell in the middle categories.

The canvassing duo was met with some residential curiosity Thursday. Residents peeked behind curtains at the strangers standing on the sidewalk staring and pointing at their homes. For some, the curiosity was too much. They came outside to find out what was going on.

"People have been friendly and engaging," Mitchell said.

Karla Brown was appreciative of the attention her neighborhood was receiving from the city.

"I think it's a good thing what they're doing," said Brown, who had raised eight children in the well-kept home on Johnson Street where she had lived for 30 years. "It's a nice neighborhood, but its mostly renters now, where it used to be mostly homeowners. There are properties that could use some assistance, that's for sure."

The housing assessment is a small part of a larger puzzle, Mitchell said.

"The survey of residents was the beginning, this is the next step," he said. "It's all a part of a holistic vision to improve the quality of life for people and provide assistance if they ask for it."

Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at shilyard@pjstar.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.