The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting and exacerbating so many of the problems our community faces. Housing is no exception:
Joining Forces for Affordable Housing held its first meeting since COVID-19 struck Illinois on April 6, 2020. One of the things we talked about was how local housing & homeless agencies are responding.
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.
In October of 2019, Joining Forces for Affordable Housing held several community meetings at the Civic Center to review and discuss the Undesign the Redline exhibit that was on display. Our focus was on considering the exhibit's suggestions for future action that would help to dismantle the restrictive limits that redlining imposed on Black communities and the resulting long-term dis-investment and segregation that have resulted.
Here is a brief summary of what we discussed:
I attended Housing Action Illinois' annual conference, called "Housing Matters" on October 24 and 25. It was excellent, and I recommend everyone interested in housing issues in Illinois watch for this next year and head to Bloomington in October.
Here's a link to descriptions of the sessions from the conference, that includes links to the PowerPoints that were presented.
During the summer, Joining Forces and Reclaim Evanston partnered to hold one meeting in each of Evanston's nine wards, asking residents for their input on the need for affordable housing. This article summarizes the feedback we received from community members on what types of solutions they would like to see.
Coach houses and ADUs (accessory dwelling units) are a hot topic in Evanston, since many backyards have room for them and they may have the potential to be a new source of affordable housing. However, turning this cool idea into reality is going to take some work. Here's what's going on.
Seeking to Do a Pilot
The Evanston Development Cooperative (EDC) is leading the charge on creating new coach houses. They have several homeowners interested. However, they are still looking for the right financing models to allow the new coach houses to be affordable to whomever is living in them. They pitched an idea for a pilot to the City of Evanston last week that included the following:
Rejection of the Proposal
The City Council voted the proposal for the pilot down. It appeared to us that they did not all seem to realize that this was a proposal to have the City fund one pilot coach house--not to pilot a loan program for coach houses. With an apparent assumption that this would be the first of multiple such loans, they raised several good concerns that included:
However, some of the concerns seem to come from an overly cautious, austerity-based mindset. Such a mindset is understandable right now, given the current budget situation and the fierce criticism the community is directing towards City Council's every move.
We believe that EDC's proposal was a low-risk opportunity to get a coach house built that could serve as a financial model for banks and other potential sources of funding and for homeowners to see how an ADU could be feasible for them. We believe that such a model could help to accelerate the propagation of affordable coach houses throughout the community.
While the pilot proposal was not perfect, it would have showed everyone that the City is serious about taking action to get affordable housing built. If there had been better understanding that this was NOT a proposal for a loan program but a proposal to accelerate development of a pilot ADU, perhaps the aldermen would have been willing to take a leap of faith and try this out.
EDC responded to the rejection with grace and showed willingness to take the feedback they received and work with it. The best case scenario will be if they can find a solution that will quickly result in a pilot that has even stronger characteristics than what they originally proposed. Some things we are hoping for are:
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:
Recently, several parcels of land owned by the City of Evanston have been for sale. One was the old Recycling Center on Oakton, which is moving toward becoming a climbing wall facility. Another is the library parking lot, where a controversial proposal to build a large office building was being considered and was recently declined by the City Council.
While not every parcel is appropriate for affordable housing, Joining Forces feels that any piece of City-owned property should be rigorously evaluated as a site for affordable housing before any RFP is issued and that all developers should be encouraged to propose buildings that include affordable residential units. We would like to see developers be invited to look beyond current zoning restrictions--if they include affordable units in their proposals--in order to promote development of affordable units in traditional as well as mixed-use and mixed-income buildings.
Additionally, we would like to see the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee include provisions for City-owned property in the Affordable Housing Plan that it is drafting. Now is the time to look at the available land in the City and determine where and how as much of it as possible can be used to achieve the City's goals, in particular, the goal related to affordable housing. The plan should also call for an ongoing policy that requires newly available City-owned land to be immediately considered for use as affordable housing as it becomes available.
Chicago is in the process of building 4 new libraries that have senior housing included in the facilities. This is the kind of creativity and innovation that we need to seek from developers of all kinds of building if we are to meet the need in Evanston.
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:
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.
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.
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!