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Aldermen ask for stronger inclusionary housing plan

Evanston aldermen tonight said they liked the stronger inclusionary housing ordinance drafted over two years ago by the city’s Housing Commission better than the milder version prepared by city staff.

So they asked the staff to come up with a new draft incorporating the stronger provisions.

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said the staff proposal would not really be inclusionary, because developers could meet their affordablity burden by paying a fee, rather than including affordable units in their projects.

Alderman Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward, said the staff’s proposed $63,000 fee in lieu of building an affordable unit was far too low.

Sue Cooney of the North Shore Barrington Association of Realtors said the council should offer developers incentives, such as density bonuses or a reduction in parking requirements, if they’re going to impose the affordable housing requirement.

But Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said “We’re already giving away height and density. Now is the time we can say to the developers to provide something in return. As long as we let the developers figure out a definite number for what they’re projects will cost, they’ll make a determination about whether to come or not based on that bottom line.”

Several aldermen said they believe the 15 year affordability control period in the staff proposal was far too short, and that the council should consider requiring the units to be kept affordable in perpetuity.

However, some aldermen said some aspects of the staff proposal go too far.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she couldn’t support the ordinance if, as the staff proposed, it applied to rental housing. She said construction of new rental housing is already too challenging financially to place additional burdens on it.

And she said adopting an ordinance that covered condo conversions, as staff has suggested for a companion measure, “is the biggest mistake we could make.”

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said that would increase costs for the buyers of converted condos, “and those are exactly the people we should be trying to help.”

The city’s legal staff has argued that including new rental construction and condo conversions as well a new condo projects is needed to avoid challenges to the ordinance on equal protection grounds.

Ald. Rainey proposed that the council consider asking voters to raise the real estate transfer tax by $1 from its current $5 per $1000 of sale price level as an additional way to fund affordable housing.

“It would be very interesting to see if the community at large supports affordable housing with the same verve and energy that the people who come to our meetings do,” she said.

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