Call to Action in Evanston: Choose Affordable Housing!

Evanston's City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 22, was focused on affordable housing. Here is the packet for the meeting, and here is a video of the meeting. During public comment, 13 members of Joining Forces spoke, asking the City Council to "Choose Affordable Housing" in 13 different ways. And one of our members added both beauty and meaning to the evening by singing. The core of each statement made is listed below. 

Many thanks to all the Joining Forces members who spoke (or sang)! These statements will provide a good foundation for our advocacy in Evanston this year.

Speaker #1: Bonnie Wilson, member of the Age-Friendly Task Force Housing Committee
I have been a realtor in Evanston for over 35 years. I know how important it is to maintain a thriving real estate market and help home-owners maintain the value of their homes. As the past township Assessor, I always made sure taxpayers received their proper exemptions. I personally understand that we must increase the supply of affordable housing in Evanston. Joining Forces believes that affordable housing is an equity issue and that residents who do not have housing they can afford have no hope of achieving equity in our community. We are pleased at the progress the City has made by strengthening the inclusionary housing ordinance and allowing rental of coach houses to non-family members. However, these actions by themselves do not create new affordability. The City has not been making the difficult choices that are needed to produce new affordable units. In June of 2016, the Age Friendly Task Force Housing Committee presented the City with solutions to affordable housing for seniors. Tonight we are presenting the Sawgrass Market Assessment because no action was taken in 2016. We believe that there are other actions coming up that will provide you the opportunity to make the choice for affordable housing. We ask that each of you, as Aldermen, make a commitment to Choose Affordable Housing for this year, 2020.

Speaker #2: Wynn Graham, new member of Joining Forces' Age-Friendly Housing Committee
Action Needed on Age-Friendly Market Study
On behalf of Joining Forces, I would like to ask the City Council to Choose Affordable Housing this year, starting with several votes tonight. Tonight you will hear about a Market Study initiated and funded through work of the Age-Friendly Evanston Task Force. The Study shows an urgent need for affordable housing for seniors—both assisted living units and independent living units. The action requested of you tonight is to accept the Market Study and “place it on file.” We ask that you choose to do more—that, instead, you read the study, review the Age-Friendly Task Force’s recommendations from 2016, and commit to take action based on the compelling findings you will encounter. We ask that you insist that recommendations honoring these findings be included in the City’s new affordable housing plan, and that you support their implementation. We ask you to Choose Affordable Housing.

Speaker #3: Toni Rey, member of Interfaith Action of Evanston
Approval of the CJE Senior Life Building
On behalf of these advocacy groups, I would like to ask the City Council to Choose Affordable Housing, starting tonight! On the agenda is approval of funding for and development of an addition to the CJE Senior Life Building—an addition that will provide 60 units of affordable housing for senior citizens. Joining Forces is in full support of this proposal, which will provide the greatest boost to affordability in Evanston in recent history. Some people have expressed concern about the size and height of the building; however, Joining Forces supports increased density that results in affordable units, when the development is well planned and designed through collaboration between the City and experienced and responsible developers. Evergreen has proved through its other affordable buildings to be such a developer. We urge Council members to Choose Affordable Housing tonight and to approve the CJE development and the related request for funding.

Speaker #4: Patti Capouch, Executive Director, Impact Behavioral Health
Support for AFFORDABLE Coach Houses
On behalf of Joining Forces, I ask that the City Council choose affordable housing, starting tonight by asking staff to develop proposals for the ideas related to coach houses included in the packet for this meeting. One of these ideas is to allow internal or attached ADUs, and the other is to allow two ADUs per single-family property. While we also support the waiver of building permit fees for coach houses and ADUs that will be priced to be affordable, we know that it will take City resources to implement this change. Given that resources are tight, we feel postponing the decision on permit fees would be reasonable, especially if the City can, instead, work on creating a more comprehensive affordable coach house solution—more than the fee waiver can do by itself. We thank the City for choosing last week to remove the height restriction which would have required an ADU to be shorter than the primary residential structure. Now we ask you to continue to ask for substantial and significant ways chip away at creating a solution to make ADUs affordable. Please Choose Affordable Housing.

Speaker #5: Jen Feuer-Crystal, Director of Housing, Connections for the Homeless
Finding More Revenue for Affordable Housing
So far you have heard of choices you can make tonight to support affordability. Now we would like to ask you to make some choices that can result in real system change this year. On behalf of Joining Forces, I would like to ask the City Council to Choose Affordable Housing by seeking new sources of revenue to fill the Affordable Housing Fund. There is already a proposal being put forth related to the increase in the real estate transfer tax—specifically, to allocate the new revenue to the Affordable Housing Fund. We would like to suggest that all revenue from the real estate transfer tax be allocated to the Affordable Housing Fund. However, this is not enough. We need a game-changer. We are hoping that the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee will be suggesting new sources of revenue, and Joining Forces is working on ideas as well. We ask that you join us in this exploration and that you commit to taking bold action related to revenue. We ask you to Choose Affordable Housing.

Speaker #6: Kristen White, Director of Operations, YWCA Evanston/North Shore
Eliminating Silos: Coordinating the Reparations & Affordable Housing Funds
On behalf of Joining Forces, I would like to ask the City of Evanston to Choose Affordable Housing this year. Affordable housing is a matter of equity, and it is not coincidence that the Reparations Sub-Committee will likely be proposing housing affordability programs as one use for the Reparations Fund. At the same time, the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee will be preparing recommendations on how the Affordable Housing Fund should be used. We believe that the Affordable Housing Fund and the Reparations Fund can and should leverage each other to have the greatest possible combined impact. We therefore ask the City Council, in their oversight of these committees, to ask them to create a process for working together—one that respects the goals and processes of both committees while ensuring that their goals can be achieved. We ask as well that other City Committees and Commissions have input to the plans of both committees and that the City proactively choose to remove silos that fragment affordable housing efforts. We ask you tonight to Choose Affordable Housing. 

Speaker #7: Daina Jauntirans, Board member of Hip Circle Studio, on behalf of Ayanna Brown, Community Case Manager at Connections for the Homeless
Banning Single-Family-Only Zoning
As a renter in Evanston, I currently pay about 60% of my income on housing. At Connections, we look for better than that for our clients, and we are not finding it in Evanston. However, I feel lucky to be where I am, since I was born and mostly raised in Evanston and I want my daughter to have the advantages that the City provides.  On behalf of Joining Forces, I would like to ask the City of Evanston to Choose Affordable Housing this year by revising its zoning to make more affordable housing both possible and likely in every ward. Among other changes, we are interested in eliminating zoning that only allows for single-family homes. Minneapolis was the first in the country to choose to make this change late last year. Likewise, all of Evanston’s neighborhoods should be able to include coach houses and two- and three-flats at a minimum. We ask that, this year, you conduct a review of zoning to eliminate policies and practices that inhibit development of affordable housing and include measures that will incentivize new affordability in all wards. We ask that you Choose Affordable Housing.

Speaker #8: Keith Banks, Executive Director, Reba Place Development Corporation
Supporting Density to Create Affordability
On behalf of Joining Forces, I would like to ask the City of Evanston to Choose Affordable Housing this year by embracing increased density as a way to strengthen the community. When it is well planned, placed, and designed, density not only increases affordability, but it is good for the environment, reduces vehicle use, and promotes community-building. And density does not just mean high-rises. It means compact housing and creative repurposing of existing homes and other buildings. The character of Evanston right now includes segregation and housing poverty. We need to change the character of Evanston to eliminate these problems. And by using density as a strategic tool, we can do this, without damaging the parts of our character that people talk about wanting to preserve. Please do not consider “density” to be a dirty word. Please Choose Affordable Housing.

Speaker #9: Sarah Vanderwicken, member of the Unitarian Church of Evanston
Moving Forward with the HACC Building
On behalf of Joining Forces, I would like to ask the City to choose affordable housing by moving forward promptly on the first of several opportunities we will mention tonight. One of these is the mixed income senior building proposed at 1900 Sherman Ave. by the Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC). The Market Study that Wynn Graham mentioned earlier describes a great need for both independent-living and assisted-living units for seniors. We will not meet this need without change—change that includes increased density, especially near public transportation and areas rich in amenities. We support the size of building originally proposed by HACC for this site and, in fact, would support an even taller building, particularly if it would allow more affordable units for lower income residents. We ask that you choose affordable housing this year by accelerating the process for this building and taking advantage of the housing authority’s proposal. Please Choose Affordable Housing. 

Speaker #10: Larry Donoghue, Chair, Evanston Housing & Homelessness Commission
Moving Forward with the South Blvd. Development
On behalf of Joining Forces, I would like to ask the City to choose affordable housing this year by moving forward with a new affordable housing development on the City-owned property on South Boulevard. I am pleased that the City has chosen to consider affordable housing for this site instead of high-end housing or some other use. And I support this initiative despite the fact that my wife and I rent 2 parking spaces in this lot. My understanding is that, while the City has an RFP already developed, progress is on hold because of concerns that some neighbors have. I urge the City to address those concerns conscientiously and compassionately but also quickly so that the RFP can be issued. And if staffing resources are an issue, I ask that this initiative be given a higher priority. Affordable housing is an urgent need for close to half of Evanston’s households. I ask that you choose to prioritize this important need and take action. Please Choose Affordable Housing.

Speaker #11: Drina Nikola, member of the Age-Friendly Evanston Task Force Housing Committee
Moving Forward with the Library Parking Lot
On behalf of Joining Forces, I would like to ask the City to choose affordable housing this year by developing a concept for the City-owned library parking lot that includes a significant number of affordable units and issuing an RFP to suitable developers. We believe that this should be a City-initiated project that is driven by the City’s priorities and that the RFP reflect the City’s choice to create more affordability over luxury units or single-use office buildings. Affordability is particularly important at this site, which is in an area rich in amenities, close to public transit, and full of cultural and social resources, including the adjacent Women’s campus. While the City does not have an up to date Comprehensive Plan or downtown plan, it does have affordable housing listed as a priority. The developments we are mentioning tonight all support that priority. Please Choose Affordable Housing.

Speaker #12: Abigail Aziza Stone, Board member, Connections for the Homeless
Moving Forward with the Development at Dodge & Darrow
On behalf of Joining Forces, I would like to ask the City to choose affordable housing this year. We thank you for participating in the recent meeting to hear the preliminary plans for development of the church site  and adjacent parking lot at Dodge and Darrow presented by Mount Pisgah Ministry Church. A partnership between a church and the municipality to create a significant addition of affordable housing is a creative and exciting strategy that we support. We encourage the City to move forward expeditiously with issuing its RFP for use of the vacant lot and for considering the possibility of collaboration with the church as a pilot that can serve as a model for other such developments. We also encourage the City and all developers who apply to look for ways to make the rents in this building affordable for low and even very low income residents. The lack of such housing is a critical gap in our infrastructure, and we ask you to begin to develop a solution this year. Please Choose Affordable Housing.

Speaker #13: Sue Loellbach, Manager of Advocacy at Connections for the Homeless, Coordinator of Joining Forces for Affordable Housing
Choosing Affordable Housing
On behalf of Joining Forces, I ask that, this year, the City Council make the decisions, find the funding, pass the laws, and make the choices to create more affordable housing. We recognize that the council has already taken important actions, for example, updating and improving the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, commissioning a new Affordable Housing plan, and having quarterly council meetings dedicated to Affordable Housing. We very much appreciate that. And last year, you passed reparations. You were the first in the country to do this. It was a bold and brave step. We ask that in 2020, you build on this step to lay a foundation for equity in the community. Without more affordable housing, equity for low-income people in our community will not be possible, with or without reparations. The choices you will need to make will not all be easy, and affordable housing will not always be the popular choice. It will mean change in neighborhoods and in neighbors. It will require changes in attitudes. It will require changes in how the City spends money. We need you to be the leaders in these changes, and we have highlighted opportunities for change tonight. We need affordable housing to be more than an item on the list of priorities. We need you to Choose Affordable Housing it over choices that are not affordable housing.