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Why Evanston Needs an Affordable Housing Plan

On April 30, the Evanston City Council held its third quarterly meeting focused on affordable housing. The City's housing staff reported on the work they had done since the last meeting, and Council referred further investigation of several potential actions to the Planning & Development Committee.

So, progress was made....until Alderman Revelle recommended that the Council task the Housing & Homelessness Commission with developing an Affordable Housing Plan....at which point, all progress stopped.

Objections to this proposal included:
  • Not believing that a plan is needed--since the City is already working on affordable housing solutions
  • Not trusting the process of having a volunteer commission spend the time researching a topic and making recommendations that the Council might not accept
  • Wanting to wait until the IHO Sub-Committee has completed its renovation of the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance
Why a Plan Is Needed
The Council ended its discussion by asking staff to create an assessment of need to help Council in determining whether to task the Housing & Homelessness Commission with something and, if so, what. City Manager Bobkiewicz ended the discussion by stating that "The needs are overwhelming...and we will never have the resources to fulfill all of those needs." THIS IS EXACTLY WHY A PLAN IS NEEDED!

Elements of an Affordable Housing Plan 
A comprehensive, long-term affordable housing plan, with measurable goals, will ensure the following:

  • Integration of Solutions: We need multiple solutions to be implemented, and they must complement each other to address the range of needs in the community. Implementing one solution at a time will not ensure a cohesive and effective approach to affordability.

  • New Resources: Because we don't have enough resources, we need to find new ones. With a plan in place, we will be more likely to attract new partners (e.g., funders, developers) and to gain their confidence and support.

  • Short-Term & Mid-Term Progress: If drafted and implemented properly, a plan will include not only measurable goals, but a work plan that includes the steps, responsibilities, and timelines for achieving those goals. That gives City staff, elected officials, and advocates the tools they need to ensure progress.

  • Long-Term Progress: An effective plan will integrate affordable housing into day-to-day workings of the City. It will not be shelved but will continue to address housing needs long into the future as the economy and the community change.

Why the Housing & Homelessness Commission Should Be Involved
Several elected officials have told Joining Forces members that the City Council does not really pay attention to commission recommendations. We understand that the purpose of commissions is to bring in citizen input and to leverage staff skills and time to accomplish the work of the City. If this is correct, then the Council's disregard of commission work and recommendations, if it exists, needs to change. We'd like to see the change start with the Housing & Homelessness Commission, and we'd like to see this Commission engaged in developing a plan that the Council adopts and implements, for the following reasons:

  • The City has excellent Community Development staff. While they are the ones who will ultimately be responsible for implementing any plan, their jobs could be made easier if the Commission could support them in research and planning tasks, negotiations, liaising with the public,  and advocacy for practical  and comprehensive solutions.

  • The working relationship between the Commission and the Council needs to be collaborative so that, if the Council disagrees with Commission recommendations, the points of contention are negotiated until agreement is reached. It is not acceptable for a plan presented by a commission to be shelved and the subject dropped. We need an affordable housing plan, and this is an opportunity to create one through a collaborative partnership.

  • The Commission should take responsibility after approval of the plan to work with staff on monitoring, reporting, and revising the plan as needed. This would ensure that the plan remains a useful tool to the City and that its goals are achieved.

Why the Plan Is Needed Now

Evanston has thousands of residents suffering from the lack of affordable housing.

Evanston is activated to do something about affordable housing.
  • We have elected officials, City staff, and citizens all ready to tackle this issue.
  • We have data, thanks to the City's housing team.
  • We have knowledge of solutions, again, thanks to the City's housing team.

We have some resources but not enough to implement all the solutions.
  • We need to choose where to use the current resources.
  • We need to develop strategies for getting new resources.
  • We need to prioritize what needs should be addressed first using current resources and which will be next in line.

Our current strategy of "going after the low-hanging fruit" will yield results, and we should continue with those efforts. However, although they will pave the way for affordability, most of the efforts underway will not directly result in new affordable units. Additionally, on their own, they will not set us on the road to a long-term, community-wide solution to the shortage of affordable housing.