We wanted to share these three recaps from the latest Land Use Commission meeting that addressed the special use request for 600-square-foot efficiency homes on Grant Street. These units are clearly not intended to be affordable, even though the developer initially suggested that affordability was one of their selling points. Both the public and one of the commissioners expressed concerns about the lack of affordability for this project.
These perspectives can highlight some of the classic NIMBY concerns that the YIMBY committee has discussed, especially regarding density in this case, as well as general ambivalence towards affordable housing from the developer, community, and commission.
Bill Smith from Evanston Now
Commissioner Myrna Arevalo cast the only vote in favor of the special use request for the site at 1915-1917 Grant. The rest of the commission voted against the request. Arevalo said the 600-square-foot efficiency homes would be a better use of the site than the “mega-mansion” that could be built as of right on each lot under the zoning code. Because of high housing costs, younger people “are learning to live with a lot less than we are accustomed to,” Arevalo added, and “I don’t think this sort of change to the neighborhood is a bad thing.”
Commissioner Kristine Westerberg said she liked the idea of the development and similar concepts that could expand home ownership opportunities, but she didn’t believe that this project makes sense to proceed with. The commission voted to rewrite the proposed text amendment to require that plans for more than one efficiency home on a lot require treatment as a planned development rather than a special use.
Developer David Wallach of Blue Paint Development said he expected the units he wants to build would sell for $359,000 to $379,000, except for one unit provided as part of the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance that would be priced at $275,000.
Five residents of the neighborhood around the development site spoke at the meeting in opposition to the project. Pamela Rosenbusch, who lives across the street at 1914 Grant, said it was “too much density” and would create traffic and parking issues, while Gionmatthais Schelbert, of 1905 Grant, called the proposal “a disaster” and compared it to the monorail project in an episode of The Simpsons.
An ultimate decision on the development proposal will be up to the City Council.
Joining Forces Community Organizer, Rodney Orr
With the cheapest of the proposed efficiency units projected to sell for $275,000, opposition to this development showed concern for the lack of affordability, as well as the density that this development could bring.
The developer, David Wallach, claimed that the development was for “everyone” when asked by Commissioner Lindwall. When Lindwall said that not many people could afford the units that Wallach is proposing, he said that he believes that affordable housing is a scam to the city and called section 8 housing and townhouses decrepit.
There wasn’t any pushback against Wallach’s comments about affordable housing or responses to community concerns about the need for affordability. There should be more of an understanding of what affordability means in terms of home ownership, since most affordability centers on rental units. NIMBYs usually show concerns about density and multi-family developments, especially when they’re proposed to be in neighborhoods that are primarily full of single-family homes.
Joining Forces Member, Mark Karlin
Wallach, the developer, suggested that this project was the wave of the future for Evanston, that there was a growing demand for innovative affordable housing. However, he adamantly denied that he was building affordable housing in this project. He also said he preferred the term "attainable housing" to affordable housing, but it didn't really matter because he wanted to make sure that the Commission and the neighbors in opposition who attended knew that he was not building affordable housing.
The most “affordable” unit that he proposed would be sold for $260,0000, while the rest would be around $370,000. Opposition said that this wasn't affordable housing, just less expensive than the surrounding properties, but not for those who can't afford to cover rent, since these "efficient" units are for sale, not rent. Some objections claimed that this development would destroy the "character" of the neighborhood, that it would increase traffic and density, cause garbage collection inconveniences, that this is premature given that Evanston is developing a planning overhaul for housing (which one resident kept emphasizing was allegedly costing the city $750,000), and that it would bring down property values.
The Commission members didn't seem to challenge the developer that much. He touted that he was building a $1.5 million dollar house in Evanston, while saying that his Grant Street proposal was the wave of the future.
Comment from Sue Loellbach, Director of Joining Forces for Affordable Housing
At a 3rd ward meeting several months ago, the developer had been touting these efficiency units as affordable. I asked whether 1) there was any way to ensure that people who needed these units would get them, 2) whether there had been any discussions with the City about providing downpayment assistance to applicants, and 3) whether there were any options to make these units more affordable. The answers to all of these were no, and the developer seems not to be backing off on the claims that this housing is affordable.