Evanston aldermen this week encouraged city staff to develop more detailed proposals for several concepts they hope would produce more affordable housing in the city.

But calls by some activists for a moratorium on large housing developments downtown did not appear to gain any aldermanic support.

Doug Sharp.

Doug Sharp said the group he belongs to, Reclaim Evanston, wants a moratorium on any new large-scale developments until the city develops “a coherent and comprehensive” affordable housing plan.

Reclaim Evanston is an offshoot of the Reclaim Chicago PAC, which, according to state campaign finance records, spent more than $4,000 last year on in-kind contributions of staff time to support of the successful campaigns of Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, and City Clerk Devon Reid and the unsuccessful campaigns of Rob Bady and Alex Block.

The money was spent through The People’s Lobby, a group that backed the 2016 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders.

Reclaim Chicago PAC receives almost all its funding, about $200,000 a year, from a super PAC called National Nurses United for Patient Protection, which also spent heavily in 2016 to back Sanders.

The last time the City Council imposed a moratorium on downtown development it was June 2007.

By the time the moratorium was allowed to expire in December, the housing market had collapsed and no major new development projects were proposed for the next several years — resulting in no new funds for the inclusionary housing ordinance the council had adopted in 2006.

Meanwhile, it took the council until 2009 to adopt the downtown plan that had ostensibly been the reason for imposing the moratorium in the first place.

The moratorium idea was revived last fall by opponents of the 15-story Albion Residential development who generally oppose all tall buildings, but gained no traction with aldermen then.

Aldermen Monday at the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting directed staff to:

  • Develop a detailed plan for a rental assistance grant program that would make use of existing rental housing stock and be funded, at least in part, by developer payments to the city’s affordable housing fund. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she wanted to make sure the new program wouldn’t be “the bureaucratic nightmare” of federally funding voucher programs run by the Housing Authority of Cook County.
  • Develop a proposal to provide loans to owners of apartments rented at affordable prices who need additional capital to make needed repairs to their buildings. Alderman Rue Simmons said much of that housing stock now is very dated and expensive to maintain.
  • Further explore options for providing assistance to first-time homebuyers. City staff indicated that a previous city effort on that front failed because residents at the targeted income level couldn’t qualify for mortgages on available properties in the city.

At the Planning and Development Committee meeting, aldermen discussed, and asked staff to develop more information about

  • Removing restrictions that limit rental of coach house apartments to people related to the property owner. Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said a staff suggestion to limit such rentals to people from a city-maintained list of low-income residents would propbably be difficult to implement.
  • Encouraging construction of new coach houses or other accessory dwelling units. Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, said that would be especially helpful in areas of the city like his, where few coach houses now exist.
  • The possibility of repealing a city ordinance that now limits to three the number of unrelated people who can live in a dwelling unit.
  • The viability of encouraging rooming houses as an affordable housing option.

A special City Council subommittee on the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance is now scheduled to hold its first meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 17 in the aldermanic library at the Civic Center.

City staff is scheduled to provide updates on the various proposals to encourage more affordable housing at a special City Council meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 29.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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