For this month, we're featuring the executive director of the Reba Place Development Corporation (RPDC) and Joining Forces member, Keith Banks. Keith is originally from the south side of Chicago, moving around with his single divorced mom and his brother from rental apartments to townhouse co-ops and more. He relocated to Evanston with his wife 28 years ago and continues to reside in this town.
Keith’s background of moving around Chicago and living in different kinds of low-incoming housing with his family is actually what fueled his interest in affordable housing advocacy. He had been accustomed to the availability of cheaper housing that provided more space in the south side, but after getting married and looking for houses in Evanston, he soon noticed that there isn’t much available housing stock for people with lower incomes. It became very apparent that there is a wealth-equity gap that needed to be addressed, so Keith took it upon himself to provide wealth-building opportunities for people in Evanston to not only find homes they could afford, but also establish equity by saving money and building credit to essentially eliminate their potential to become homeless through his work.
With Keith’s accounting degree and over 30 years experience in the financial services industry, having worked for insurance and tax companies, helping families to reposition their assets to increase their net worth and save for things like college and buying homes. He then started working for the Evanston Community Development Association (ECDA). During a housing boom in the early 2000s, high-end housing started driving up costs, which created a need for more affordable housing and made people of color prey to predatory lending. So, ECDA started creating housing to save these families through faith-based initiatives of churches which also included RPDC. Specifically, from 2005-2006, they renovated a 6-unit apartment building and sold units to people who wouldn’t have been able to afford typical condos. However, the market crash and recession in 2008 slowed things down. They were able to sell three of those units during the recession, but it took three years to sell the remaining units as mortgages became difficult.
Keith and Reba Place have been associated with Joining Forces since the advocacy group was created. Keith is also a member of Evanston’s Lighthouse Rotary Club. In these roles, as well as his most current one with RPDC, Keith’s advocacy efforts have included things that involve supporting local nonprofits to help them grow and receiving grants from Evanston Community Foundation to assist people during the COVID pandemic.
Keith said that 1) the zoning laws and ordinances need to improve by allowing more flexibility for existing lots and developments for new housing, as well as including more family units, and 2) create a constant pipeline between affordable housing units that are created per year and the types of affordable housing units that are available: rent-to-own properties, co-ops, condos, single-family homes, more opportunities to buy affordable units, etc when asked what he thinks the best two things to do for affordable housing in Evanston are. The last thing that Keith had to say was “working together works,” meaning that everything that we would like to accomplish for affordable housing or any kind of structural change takes financial resources that come from collaborative efforts between the Community, advocacy groups, banks, businesses, local governments; City of Evanston, lawmakers, etc.