What Could Evanston Do about the Lack of Affordable Housing?

City of Evanston staff came up with a great list of ideas to address the affordable housing crisis in Evanston back in 2017 (see their White Paper).  We have added to it below, with just some of the ideas we have drawn from research. There are LOTS of solutions. But it all starts with planning--a list of solutions is not the answer. We need a plan that defines which solutions should be implemented when and where, where funding will be sought, and when we should start to see what kind of results. 

We are hoping to see the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee start to move forward from exploration of these solutions to planning and commitment to action in its next meeting. We believe that community outreach is the next step. We would like to see that outreach focus on what types of solutions will work best in the different geographic areas of the City and among the different segments of residents in the community based on socio-economic status, race, age, household size, etc.

People ask what we want to see in the plan--here are some ideas:

Fix City-controlled zoning and processes that make affordability more difficult:
  • Get rid of single-family zoning 
  • Get rid of the 3-unrelated rule
  • Change zoning to allow smaller lots and dwellings in more neighborhoods
  • Reduce parking restrictions
  • Allow development of new ADUs
  • Reduce costs of building affordable housing (e.g., through code amendments, lower fees, reduced parking, city-funded street improvements)
Implement supportive programs for landlords of affordable rental units:
  • Develop and fund incentives for landlords to charge affordable rents for market rate units
  • Develop incentives for people to rent out coach houses and basement apartments, create home-sharing opportunities, and other innovative affordability solutions
  • Publicize tax incentives for landlords that rent to voucher holders
  • Create a “vacancy payment” program to encourage landlords to hold apartments for voucher holders during the approval process
  • Expand the existing rehab program for landlords with rents appropriate for lower income households
  • Create a “risk mitigation” program for landlords that rent to low-income tenants at affordable rates Create incentives for landlords to participate in landlord training and meetings
  • Provide tenant education programs
  • Create a rental registration program
Implement supportive programs for lower income home-owners:
  • Expand the scope of the handyman program
  • Tie the handyman program to social services where needed, to help home-owners who cannot afford their homes and may need to move
  • Implement rehab programs to assist owners of single-family homes and two-flats stay in their homes
  • Create a program to help renters become home-owners
  • Partner with local banks on home-buyer programs
  • Expand use of the land trust model
Support the development/preservation of affordable housing:
  • Partner with non-profit organizations and housing agencies to fund the purchase of existing, affordable multi-family housing to preserve it for the long term.
  • Provide gap funding for projects that bring in external funding
  • Work with faith communities to develop affordable units in unused facilities.
  • Solicit RFPs from developers for affordable or mixed income buildings for vacant land, foreclosed upon properties, and properties that need development
  • Require deed restrictions to ensure permanent affordability
  • Use City-owned property for development of new affordable or mixed income housing
  • Acquire parcels through the Cook County No Cash Bid Program and use them to develop affordable housing.
  • Create a registry of vacant buildings and plan for their acquisition and use as affordable housing
  • Invest in capital improvements in at-risk neighborhoods
Support low-income people with housing cost-burden:
  • Establish a more robust rental subsidy program(s) with options for short-, medium-, and long-term subsidies
  • Expand the General Assistance program
  • Publicize programs such as Hardest Hit
  • Support programs that help to reduce costs for low-income people (e.g., childcare subsidies, transportation assistance, supplemental food programs, etc.)
  • Provide financial literacy programming
Find new revenue for affordable housing and housing programs:
  • Divert half the revenue from the Real Estate Transfer Tax to the Affordable Housing Fund
  • Tap additional local sources to dedicate more funding to affordable housing (e.g., increase of property tax and/or business & occupation tax, luxury taxes, bonds, etc.)
  • Pursue funding partnerships with employers (hospitals, Northwestern), financial institutions, foundations, and others.
  • Pursue federal, state, and county dollars for housing.
  • Pursue developers of affordable housing who regularly apply for federal, state, and private funding combinations.
  • Encourage development of private, philanthropic affordable housing funding.