Affordable Housing Feedback from Evanston's Wards

During the summer, Joining Forces and Reclaim Evanston partnered to hold one meeting in each of Evanston's nine wards, asking residents for their input on the need for affordable housing. This article summarizes the feedback we received from community members on what types of solutions they would like to see. 

Interestingly, we did not see great differences among the wards' opinions of what solutions would work best. People seemed to be thinking more broadly than their own wards and were looking at what the City as a whole needs. We found this very encouraging.

NOTE: The comments here are those of Evanston residents, gathered during the ward meetings. We have grouped like comments together in categories to try to make this a little easier to digest.
NOTE: In most of the ward meetings, residents brainstormed on what solutions they thought would be most effective. We then asked participants to vote for their top choices. The following lists those items that received multiple votes. Some ideas listed are included at the end under "Additional Ideas." 

More Action from the City Council: 
Comments indicated that residents would like Council members to push harder for affordable housing, including the following: 
  • Requiring City-owned property to be considered first and foremost for use as sites for affordable housing 
  • Demanding affordable units on-site from developers 
  • Soliciting affordable developments as opposed to luxury developments 
  • Promoting programs that support landlords and homeowners of affordable units 
  • Taking risks to try out new programs, pilots, and innovations that could promote affordability 
Changes to City Code to Promote Affordability: 
There is lots of enthusiasm about reviewing the City zoning code and changing portions of it to allow for easier and cheaper development of affordable housing. Suggested changes include: 
  • Allow more mixed housing stock—both mixed income and mixed use—in all zones 
  • Allow more use of small lots for housing 
  • Allow new accessory dwelling units (ADUs) like coach houses in all zones, not just single-family 
  • Allow even more affordable density than is now allowed near transit--but NOT more luxury units 
  • Eliminate single-family-only zoning 
Continued Strengthening of the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance: 
Among those residents who understand the City’s current IHO, there is both acknowledgement that it has been made considerably more effective than it was, along with hope that the following can happen in the future: 
  • Remove the opt-out options and/or increase fees for opting out 
  • Make the IHO opt-out fee an annual fee 
  • Require developers to make more than 10% of their units affordable 
Promoting Racial Equity: 
Implementing solutions with racial impact in mind was a priority for every group. There were not a lot of ideas on how to make this happen, other than to create processes that are transparent and include input from a full range of racial and socioeconomically diverse residents. However, Joining Forces has had several conversations with residents around the Undesign the Redline exhibit that was on display at the Civic Center. See this article for a write-up of those discussions.

Support for Current Evanstonians: 
Attendees shared concerns about how to support residents that are currently struggling. Suggestions included: 
  • Provide support to households facing foreclosure 
  • Develop strategies to preserve housing opportunities for current residents 
  • Protect current residents from displacement 
  • Provide mortgage education 
  • Implementing a rental subsidy program 
Opposing NIMBYism: 
Residents expressed support for the idea of doing community education & advocacy to fight NIMBYism. 

Support for City-Wide Economic & Housing Development: 
Residents agreed that affordable housing should be spread across all wards, and that its development must be supported with parallel economic development.  

Additional Ideas: 
Some of the specific ideas that residents had for action included the following: 
  • Start a community trust 
  • Expand the Perlman building (affordable units for retirees) 
  • Institute a requirement to publicly report vacancies 
  • Do more cooperative housing/community driven developments 
  • Create a City-backed trade school with free tuition 
  • Incentivize better green practices in development and in property maintenance/renovation 
  • Institute rent control 
  • Get community groups and banks together 
  • Pull money out of businesses that don’t support the community 
  • Address the issue of Northwestern University's tax burden 
  • Use a TIF kind of model to promote affordable housing 
  • Provide tax rebates for landlords building/providing affordable units