Aldermen get affordable housing hot potato

Evanston aldermen Monday night will face a challenging decision about affordable housing. The affordable housing project would occupy this vacant corner lot that once housed a gas station, and the two aging apartment buildings behind it to the right. The Planning and Development Committee is scheduled to review a proposal for 27 rent-to-own affordable housing units in a proposed four-story building on the northwest corner of Darrow Avenue and Church Street. The Darrow Corners proposal comes from the Housing Opportunity Development Corp., which has a successful track record with other affordable developments. The project has the backing of the Evanston Community Development Corporation, which has worked to revitalize the west Evanston community. But it has drawn opposition from some neighbors who say it would add too many low income residents to an area already struggling with poverty-related problems, and that it would create government-subsidized competition for owners of existing small rental properties who say they already suffer from high vacancy rates. The owners of the old Strange Engineering Company building on the northeast corner of Darrow and Church, who’ve recently renovated that building as live-work rental lofts, are among the neighbors opposing the Darrow Corners project. The project struck out at the Plan Commission – with five commissioners recommending against it, none for it, and two abstaining from the vote. The City Council is free to overrule the Plan Commission’s decision. Just last fall the aldermen overturned a Plan Commission vote to approve a 15-story condominium project at 1567 Maple Ave. But that approval came after the developer significantly modified its plans to respond to concerns neighbors and the aldermen raised. The Darrow project, located in Evanston’s 5th Ward, does have the backing of the ward’s alderman, Delores Holmes, who says it’s “a worthwile project for the neighborhood.” The project would be targeted to families earning 60 percent or less of the metro area’s median income. Residents would pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent, and after 15 years would have the opportunity to buy their units.

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