Affordable Units Slipping Through Our Fingers

Evanston's Zoning Board of Appeals met last night (April 17) and overrode the Design & Project Review Committee's recommendation to approve, with inclusion of one affordable unit on-site (for a person at 60% of the AMI), the development of a new  12-unit rental building at 3233-3249 Central called Highlands on Central. After much discussion about the affordable unit, with the developer steadfastly arguing that its inclusion was financially infeasible, the ZBA voted to approve the development without the affordable unit but with the required payment of $75,000 into the Affordable Housing Fund. While the City can make good use of the $75,000 fee in lieu, this payment will not result in a unit of affordable housing.

Highlands on Central is just one of several developments where, because of flaws in Evanston's Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, the City is losing the opportunity to create new affordable units. I have listed the "losses" below.

However, the more important issue is that the hands of our deliberating committees and commissions are tied. The IHO is not structured to be a tool they can use effectively to incentivize affordability. And although we have a sub-committee in place to remedy the problem, this sub-committee has gained no momentum, and the City is no closer to resolving the issue than they were when they settled on the idea of this committee last October.

In the meantime, all of the following groups involved in ensuring that new developments meet the needs of the City struggle whenever a project subject to the IHO comes before them: 
  • Design and Project Review Committee
  • Zoning Board of Appeals
  • Plan Commission 
  • The Plan Commission's Zoning Committee
  • Planning and Development Committee
  • City Council

All of these groups agree that affordable housing must be a priority, and they question applicants at length about their ability to comply with the IHO. However, the IHO has a built-in disincentive for developers to comply with on-site units: our buy-out only costs developers $75,000 or $100,000 (for building close to public transportation) per unit, while inclusion of on-site units costs developers somewhere around $300,000 per unit or more. Additionally, the incentives provided to developers through the IHO are not great enough to offset the reduction in rents that would result from inclusion of affordable units on-site.

Evanston has been lucky that some developers have agreed to include units on-site that are affordable to people at higher AMIs than what the IHO requires. Our recommending and decision-making bodies do not have a leg to stand on when they are trying to negotiate for more. And they are agonizing over this problem at every meeting they have with developers subject to the IHO--wanting to create affordable units but not being able to.

We encourage the IHO Sub-Committee to resume its meetings as soon as possible, with or without the educational session that is being planned, and to revise the IHO with a solution that will incentivize inclusion of affordable units on-site in all new developments.

Lost Opportunities for Affordability:

Name of Development
Desired Affordable Units On-Site
Under the IHO
Expected/Actual Affordable Units
Highlands, 3233-3249 Central, Evanston1 at 60% of AMI0, but a $75,000 payment of fees in lieu
Evanston Gateway, Chicago & Howard, Evanston5:
  • 3 at 50% of the AMI
  • 2 at 60% of the AMI
  • All at 80% of the AMI
Trammel Crowe, 1727 Oak, Evanston17:
  • 9 at 50% of the AMI
  • 8 at 60% of the AMI
  • 4 at 50% of the AMI
  • 4 at 60% of the AMI
  • 9 at 80% of the AMI
Albion, 1450 Sherman, Evanston27:
  • 14 at 50% of the AMI
  • 13 at 60% of the AMI
  • 7 at 60% of the AMI
  • 8 at 80% of the AMI