In August of 2020, Joining Forces for Affordable Housing reviewed Evanston’s Zoning Code and concluded that “both Evanston and the surrounding communities should overhaul their municipal codes to accomplish the following:
Joining Forces began its work by engaging with the consulting firm ZoneCo to test out the new equitable zoning methodology it was developing. ZoneCo had recently developed an Equity Board of experts from around the country to investigate municipal zoning practices around the U.S. that have been used unjustly against marginalized communities and to develop solutions to make zoning more equitable for these communities. They had been seeking municipalities to test their methodology out with, and when we met, a great partnership was born.
For the first phase of the Equitable Zoning Project, ZoneCo analyzed the City of Evanston’s Zoning Code. They looked at all 800 or so lines of the code from an equity perspective. The result was an “Initial Findings” report that summarizes what they found in the way of provisions that had the potential to create or perpetuate inequities and serve as barriers to affordability. For the full report, click here.
ZoneCo’s findings supported Joining Forces’ evaluation that the Evanston Zoning Code has a clear focus on preserving property values and maintaining the “character of the community,” with a distinct lack of focus on preserving affordability and equity, or on ensuring that people have stable places to live that support them in meeting all their basic needs. This focus on wealth and character, in conjunction with the lack of focus on wellbeing, make the Zoning Code appear to be a tool that codifies practices that could be used to discriminate against, segregate, and marginalize those who don’t conform to the picture of the community that those who make decisions about the zoning code are trying to preserve.
Zoning as Decision-Making about Values
In reflecting on ZoneCo’s Initial Findings, Joining Forces members started to look at the City’s Zoning Code as a moral document that reflects the values of those who decide upon the code provisions. We came to realize that every zoning decision has inherent trade-offs. For example:
Which concern is more important, and what values do decisions about these issue reflect about those making the decisions? What do they reflect about Evanston as a community? How do we achieve balance in making decisions about whose interests are served and how?
Next Phase: Community Input
To answer these questions, Connections is now starting to engage in a community dialogue among those most affected by the problems we are seeing in the current Zoning Code—a lack of affordable housing, a lack of economic equity, and racial segregation. From Connections’ work as a service provider and from Joining Forces’ advocacy work, we believe that the people most affected by these issues include:
To reach these and other potentially marginalized people, Joining Forces is partnering with groups that reach deep into the community. We are providing compensation for the following organizations to partner with us:
These groups will reach into their networks to talk with as many people as possible about how the current Zoning Code impacts their daily lives, what values the current zoning code supports now, and what values they think it should support. We will be designing activities for these groups’ official memberships, as well as holding public focus groups, doing surveys, even some canvassing.
At the end of the input process, the groups above will work with Joining Forces to prepare recommendations on zoning that the City has agreed will feed into the upcoming Comprehensive and Strategic Planning processes, as well as into a future overhaul of the Zoning Code.
Support for the Project
Zoning is not easy to talk about, and the topic can be intimidating. Therefore, not only are we looking to people in the community to help us engage residents, but we are also looking to experts in communicating about community development issues. The following groups are providing technical assistance:
Additionally, because of the Equitable Zoning Project’s focus on equity and the inclusive process we are using, Joining Forces has been awarded funding from the following charitable foundations that are supporting equity work that engages people who have been negatively affected by systems that created and now perpetuate inequities:
Funding from these organizations will supplement the investment that Connections for the Homeless is making in this Project.
How the Community Can Help
Our community partners will be engaging their established networks to assess how Evanston’s zoning code contributes to or detracts from their well-being. Joining Forces is seeking information on who else would be interested in participating. Community members can help this effort and get involved by: