Defining the Affordable Housing Need

In the discussions that Joining Forces has been having among its members, one of the key issues is the definition of "affordable housing." This is important, because the answer is different for different people, and to address the overall need, we need to include solutions for all the subsets of need in our planning.

"Affordable housing" is considered to be housing that costs no more than 30% of the resident's income. However, this is not enough of a definition, because:
  • Different people's incomes vary for very different reasons.
  • The different types of housing solutions  available are appropriate for people in different situations.
Therefore, we need to define what the need for affordable housing is, assess solutions, and create an affordable housing plan that defines "affordable housing" from both of these perspectives.

Defining Need According to People's Situations
There IS "affordable housing" available for some people at most income levels. However, what that housing is and whether it's accessible varies dramatically depending on a person's situation and the reason for his or her lack of sufficient income to pay for housing. Therefore, one of the ways we need to define affordability is according to who needs the affordability. We feel that a plan for affordability needs to consider the needs of and provide solutions for all the following:
  • People whose incomes are stable but who earn less than the Area Median Income (AMI)
  • People with disabilities who have incomes (usually very low)
  • Senior citizens with changing needs and incomes lower than the AMI
  • Families with children
  • Youth who are independent but not yet self-sufficient
  • People with strikes against them that serve as barriers to stable housing, but as criminal backgrounds, poor credit histories, and evictions
  • People with incomes so low that virtually no housing is affordable but who don't qualify for most programs, including:
    • People who are underemployed, supporting themselves on part-time, low-paying jobs
    • People who are unemployed, voluntarily or involuntarily, and do not receive unemployment income
    • People who are approaching but have not reached retirement age and have been laid off
    • People with undiagnosed or uncertified disabilities
    • Senior citizens who do not receive Social Security or other retirement benefits
    • People released from prison without employment or housing
Note: People at 100% of the AMI and over can experience problems with affordability as well. However, this is not our area of focus.

Defining Need According to Housing Solutions
The other way that affordability needs to be assessed is in terms of the housing solutions available. In order to create enough "Affordable Housing," we need to make use of all the tools available, and these include much more than development of low-cost housing. Any plan will need to include ALL of the following:
  • Naturally occurring affordable housing (and its preservation)
  • Home ownership assistance programs to help new buyers
  • Affordable units created through inclusionary zoning
  • Affordable units created by an affordable housing or non-profit developer
  • Mixed income developments
  • Public housing
  • Short-term and long-term housing subsidies (including Housing Choice Vouchers/Section 8)
  • Financial assistance in times of emergency
  • Permanent supportive housing
  • Housing programs for youth
  • Housing programs for people coming out of prison
  • Institutions for people with special needs including nursing homes
  • Shelters
An Integrated Plan
We would like to see a planning approach in place that will integrate information on who needs housing with possible housing solutions so that the City can work on multiple housing needs and solutions at a time. One way of doing this would be to create a matrix with who needs housing along one axis and housing solutions along another, with a goal and strategy for achieving that goal in each cell of the matrix.

In its white paper in the Council packet for the October 30, 2017, City Council meeting, City housing staff included a description of the need in Evanston based on area median income (see pages 10 - 16 of the packet). They also described and quantified the needs for many of the groups of people who need housing, as well as defining the housing solutions available. What has not been done yet is a plan that includes specific goals related to these needs and solutions.

Staff will be presenting an additional needs assessment to the Council, we hope, in the upcoming meeting on affordable housing on July 30. We hope that they are on the way to starting the process of breaking down the information they have into actionable items that will support development of an actionable plan.