Evanston’s City Council has failed for eight years to extend the city’s affordable housing ordinance to cover new rental construction, but subsidized rentals suddenly became front of mind for aldermen Monday night.

Faced with a planned development request for 101 rental units at 1571 Maple Ave. that’s been wending its way through the city’s approval process for at least seven months, aldermen decided that a $120,000 ostensibly-voluntary contribution to the city’s affordable housing fund agreed to by the developer and city staff wouldn’t be enough.

As recently as last summer city staff had proposed plans to amend the affordable housing ordinance, adopted in 2007 on the eave of the condo market collapse, to include rentals, but the council took no action.

Monday night Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she’d like to see two affordable units on the 1571 Maple site rather than the contribution to build housing someplace else.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, raised her, saying there should be as many as five on-site affordable units.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said affordable housing should be in the building. “Affordable housing in areas that are marginalized doesn’t work,” Tendam said.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she wanted five affordable units in the building set aside for people making no more than 30 percent of median income — but to only impose the affordability requirement for seven to 10 years.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, upped the ante further, saying 10 percent of the 101 units should be affordable.

Developer John McLinden, after complaining that he “would have appreciated having the economic issues on the table sooner, rather than at the 11th hour,” said he has been doing affordable housing in a number of communities, including Chicago.

He said meeting affordability standards for someone who earns 60 percent of area median income means leasing an apartment for about $1 per square foot — which roughly covers operating expenses and taxes.

So, at 60 percent, McLinden said, a developer is getting zero revenue to cover the cost of constructing a unit that cost perhaps $250,000 to build.

Therefore, he said, demanding five affordable units would be equivalent to requiring an affordable housing contribution of $1.25 million.

“It’s the difference between being able to do the deal and not do it,” McLinden added.

“In Chicago, when you do affordable housing, at least until recent changes, everybody plays by the same rules. Everbody’s cost structure is the same,” he said.

“But here in Evanston several new buildings we’ll be competing with aren’t faced with those costs. Don’t force something on me that my competitors don’t have to do, and force me to lease against them,” he added.

Braithwaite said the developers of E2, the twin tower rental development now leasing at 1881 Oak Ave. and 1890 Maple Ave., paid $250,000 to the city’s affordable housing fund.

But developer Michael McLean responded that E2 has over 350 units — making it 3.5 times the size of the 1571 Maple project.

Rainey suggested spreading out payments to the affordable housing fund over time. “How about $100,000 a year for 10 years to subsidize units in areas that are pretty homegeneous,” Rainey proposed.

McLinden said spreading the payments out over time would be helpful and suggested, “We could do $500,000 however you wanted. We can’t do $1 million.”

The aldermen voted to have staff negotiate revisions to the plans with the developer and return the proposal to the council for a possible final vote in three weeks, on Monday, April 13.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. For pity’s sake — what a sorry display of no common sense

    Is this why so many businesses go elsewhere?  Do the people serving on the City Council have no business sense whatsoever?

    While I am not in the real estate business, I can feel this guy's pain.  You can not expect one developer to shoulder years of "deferred" affordable housing units in more upscale areas of the city when other developers have not been asked for the same.

    And what about the surprise factor?  No advance warning of these affordable units being required?  That is unconscionable.  And what about the bouncing ball effect — two units, five units, 10 percent of the units in the building? That is crazy to be talking about numbers like that without knowing the economic effect on the developer.

    Many of the council members behave as if they have no business experience or business acumen or business sense whatsoever.  Frankly, basic common sense appears to be lacking in this very public display of stupidity.  Do we want businesses to take us seriously or not?  

    1. Shakedown
      I’m all for affordable housing, but this just amounts to a giant shakedown. C’mon, Evanston, we’re better than this.

    2. Another Evanston liberal shakedown

      This is the typical modus operandi of liberal Democrat politicians.

      They shakedown businesses and developers and even residents. With the money, these politicians curry favor with voters who use it. It's a way for them to stay in power.

      Betcha didn't know that Evanston gets $10,000 for every teardown of a home that goes into the city's affordable housing fund. The funny thing is Evanston has plenty of housing that is affordable through natural market forces. No government intervention needed.

      Evanston also has plenty of affordable housing from the $18 million neighborhood stabilization federal grant in which dozens upon dozens of housing units were built or rehabbed and rented to low income people. 

      With all of these new rentals on the market one has to wonder if Evanston is artificially increasing and attracting more low income folks into town.

      If you work then you would be wise not to vote for a Democrat or any of the incumbent council men. They are not looking out for you.

  2. Centrum should provide the affordable housing

    Cntrum has requested lots of extreme allowances – number of units, set backs, height, lack of parking, etc. The parking allowance alone saves them 3 million or more by not having to build their own parking facility.

    I am President of the Winthrop Club Condo Association and during the plan commission process we raised the lack of affordqable housing as an issue. Both city staff and the members of the commission ignored us. (which was par for the course)

    Centrum has proposed a 60 unit TOD apartment building at 1660 Division in Wicker Park. Their proposal includes 24 parking spaces for 60 units – more than they are providing for the 101 unit building proposed in Evanston. And 10% OF THE UNITS WILL BE AFFORDABLE HOUSING!!!!!

    If they can do it in Chicago they can do it in Evanston. The city council should hold firm on their demands and get the affordable. 

    1. Affordable Housing
      Thanks for taking a stand for affordable housing!
      There needs to be more affordable housing in Evanston.
      There are teachers, firefighters and business owners that work in Evanston and can barely afford to live in Evanston.
      Affordable housing should exist. Every neighborhood in Evanston should represent the diversity of our world. Let’s keep Evanston from becoming a place that only low income or high income families can live. The average income family, works hard, is not looking for hand outs and needs access to affordable housing.

      1. Plenty of affordable housing
        There’s plenty of affordable housing in Evanston! People just don’t want to live there for fear of getting shot and the crime. So let’s make more affordable housing so more low income people that crime surrounds can be throughout Evanston. Can’t wait to get out of this “city”

        1. If Evanston was to become a ‘Silicon Valley’

          With NU–Technology School [and other science departments] Evanston has the potential to become a Silicon Valley.  However past efforts to even start getting there failed [a topic in itself] and probably won't happen.  Evanston had and maybe still does have a number of successful technology [and related] companies but many/most have to leave after getting 'on their feet' due to office costs, taxes and other things the Council should have dealt with long ago.  Chicago has been developing technology and innovation centers—something Evanston city fathers blew years ago.

          Many 'tech-savey' people [NU and other school grads] still live in Evanston [how many it is hard to know and I don't know if any study of such has been done].  But they may work in Chicago or other suburbs—gee it would nice if the Council did something for them instead of having more restaurants and fast food places popping up.

          Given we [nor Chicago] probably won't become a Silicon Valley, it would still be interesting to see what/whether the City Council would do about housing.  I.e. Silicon Valley and surrounding area is so expensive that they have to have buses even for their technology people let alone janitors, cooks, restaurant workers, etc. saying nothing about what Evanston would call the 'disadvantaged.' In fact what Evanston considers the 'Middle Middle' and even 'Upper Middle' probably could not afford living here.

          This is not an excuse for the Council and others to pull-back from making us a site for technology and innovation—but I'm sure it would be used as an excuse.

    2. Not ignored

      You and your condo association have not been ignored. The developer, city staff and council members have all heard your arguments. Because your demands have not been met does not mean they have been ignored.  That is a highly unfair accusation.

  3. Integrity

    It seems this topic abounds each time a development becomes a nogotiable candidate for affordable housing.  Why waste time on an issue with no clues.  I would like to think that this is a ploy to dismiss the entire development for the sake of the residence of Evanston One.  OR, an idea to rent affordable housing to the the vacancies that will occur from the disgruntle owners that bought into the promise from the realtor of the wonderful view of upscale Evanston.  Evanstons upscale history belongs to residence  of. lakefront property.   What is being created are "projects for the so called middle class"  living in the downtown district that is becoming so congested with a taxable incomebase  that the quality of life is being comprimised.  Why not negotiate with the government of the real estate the post office is maintaining at taxpayer's expense in the downtown district.

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