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An Excellent Night for Affordable Housing

On Monday, February 4, the City Council held one of its special quarterly meetings on Affordable Housing. City staff gave its report on progress (see pages 4 - 7 in the Board packet). As you can see, they have been working on many fronts.

Most exciting is that their report included movement towards some new affordable housing developments--the most the City of Evanston has seen in years.

Mixed Income Development at 506 South Blvd.
The Council considered a proposal to start up a Request for Qualifications and Request for Proposal Process for the redevelopment of the parking lot at 506 South Boulevard as a mixed income residential development. As stated in the Board packet, the development will include a mix of the following:
  • Public housing units for low income households who would pay 30% of their income toward rent with the remainder subsidized
  • Units restricted for moderate and middle income households with incomes between 50% and 80% of the area median income
  • Market rate units
This would be the first development of its kind in the City. We do not yet know how many units. The time frame is that the land sale and redevelopment agreement would proceed in the coming fall. 

Concerns raised by residents at the meeting were primarily focused on the loss of parking. However, several residents who were observing commented to others that new affordable housing isn't needed, because we have enough housing stock in Evanston already. I think that the point of this comment was that we need to preserve the smaller homes and apartment buildings that already exist and make/keep them affordable.

Alderman Wynne, in whose ward this development would be, asked that there be a public meeting to talk about the development before the vote on the request for proposal process be taken.

To-Do's:
  • We will prepare to share Ward-specific data on need and units available throughout the City. We believe that the data will show a great need for both new units and preservation.
  • We will engage with City staff to learn more about parking issues and solutions and their intersection with affordability. 
60-Unit Affordable Senior Housing Development 
Evergreen Real Estate Group and the Council for Jewish Elderly are applying for government funding to develop a 60-unit affordable senior housing building at 1015 Howard Street (where the old Dairy Queen used to be). The financial deal would include $2,000,000 of funding from the City of Evanston, which would come from HOME funds that the City accumulates from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, as well as from the City's Affordable Housing Fund. The deal is described more in the  Board packet. The current step is that the Council approved a letter of support from the City that the developers can use in their application for the the government funding. It will likely be a couple of years before this development is ready for move-in.

We did not note any serious concerns from residents about this development, and the Council members were very supportive.

To-Do's:
  • Listen for concerns about this development and be prepared to advocate for it as it moves forward.
No Owner-Occupancy Requirement for Coach Houses
The City Council voted against a proposal to require that the owner of a property with an accessory dwelling unit such as a coach house live on the property if one of the units is to be rented to a non-family member. Joining Forces felt that this was an overly restrictive regulation to impose and spoke against it. Thanks to those of you who stood with us. 

Thank You to Council Members
All of the Council members appeared to be engaged and enthusiastic about the progress being made. Four aldermen in particularly stood out as being particularly proactive, practical, and outspoken about efforts to create affordability:

Alderman Rainey (8th Ward) gave a passionate defense of renters during the discussion about owner-occupancy and coach houses. She noted that renters should not be treated as second-class citizens and that they were just as important to the community as home-owners. THANK YOU, Alderman Rainey! She also has been very proactive in holding community meetings about the developments coming up in her ward--and appears to have more happening in her ward than is happening anywhere else in Evanston.

Alderman Wynne (3rd Ward) asked that there be a community meeting on the proposed 506 South Blvd. development before any new steps are taken. We have seen that the Evanston community wants input on developments and have seen examples where a perceived lack of input has triggered great resistance to projects (the Housing Opportunity for Women project, for instance). Therefore, we appreciate this action and look to the City to be proactive about talking to their constituents about developments earlier rather than later.

Alderman Revelle (7th Ward) continues to be a champion of affordable housing efforts at all levels. While we did not support the idea of requiring owner-occupancy on properties with accessory dwelling units, this was clearly a concern of residents from her ward, and we feel she was right to initiate the discussion. We also appreciate her persistence in focusing on the concerns of residents (potential loud parties and other obnoxious behavior from non-owners--primarily students). When it became clear that the suggested provision would not be passed, the alderman suggested a review of the how the City handles nuisances, since the current nuisance ordinance appears to be ineffective. This discussion may lead to better policy that will address concerns about student parties--in properties with coach houses as well as others.

Alderman Fleming (9th Ward) stuck up for the freedoms of residents during the discussion of owner-occupancy, warning the Council to not come down too hard on people who occasionally engage in nuisance behavior. Legislating for exceptions can infringe on rights, and the alderman has a keen sense of when this might happen. We appreciate her concern in this area--as well as her making a pitch for a new Dairy Queen!