In a wide-ranging discussion this week about how to respond to economic distress among residents, Evanston City Council members focused mainly on job training and job creation efforts.

At the strategic planning meeting, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, “In terms of getting people out of poverty, jobs are the best tool to use.”

She said she’s trying to encourage Oakton Community College to provide more programs in Evanston.

“Workforce development funds now go to community colleges,” the mayor said, “and Oakton offers wonderful programs — but they’re inaccessible by public transportation.”

She said when she checked on the travel time, it took her an hour and 42 minutes to get from Evanston to Oakton’s main campus in Des Plaines by bus.

Tisdahl said Evanston residents now form only eight percent of Oakton’s student body, while providing 16 percent of its tax base.

Evanston Township High School “has a wonderful career pathways program,” the mayor said, “but school officials are afraid to encourage students to join it becauses they don’t want to be accused of tracking black or brown students into vocational programs.”

The community college “is making a few moves to do better” — including teaching classes in the nationally certified auto repair shop at ETHS, the mayor said, “but we still have a ways to go.”

She said Oakton also teaches classes at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston geared to jobs the hospital needs to fill, “and the hospital employs graduates as quickly as it can get them.”

While many of the city’s own efforts have focused on “at risk youths,” Tisdahl said the community college programs would be of benefit to people of any age who needed to reinvent themselves for a new career.

The number of Evanston residents living in poverty has increased over the past decade in Evanston — but not as fast as in most other suburban communities around Chicago.

U.S. Census Bureau figures also show that the inflation-adjusted median income of Evanston households has decreaed 10 percent over the past decade — while median rents fell less than 4 percent.

Tisdahl said she hoped the new large rental developments going up in town — particularly the one just begun on Emerson Street — will ease some demand for the existing rental supply and result in lower prices for some apartments.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, added that with the housing market crisis of recent years, many people have shifted to rental housing and that added demand has driven rents up.

With the dedication Wednesday of the first phase of the Emerson Square development, the city is nearing the end of a burst of affordable housing construction and rehabilitation projects driven by a $18.1 million one-time federal grant.

City officials estimate that roughly 10 percent of Evanston residents are “at risk” of homelessness, but existing city programs provide new housing for no more than 45 households a year.

Before the housing market meltdown, the City Council imposed an affordable housing set aside fee on new condo projects and single family home teardowns. But that tax doesn’t apply to rental developments — the only type of construction that’s revived recently.

In 2006 voters defeated a referendum that would have increased the real estate transfer tax to fund affordable housing projects.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Liberals, rainbows and unicorns

    So the good mayor Tisdahls' best answer to poverty is for Oakton Community College to expand more programs into Evanston.

    All this affordable housing and food stamps, Link Cards and so on are Band-Aid approaches. The common reason for poverty is the breakdown of family. Most people living in poverty in America are single-parents. That is the problem and that is where everyone needs to go in order to reduce poverty.

    Based on this story, it appears no one even addressed single parenthood and out of wedlock births. You can't solve a problem unless you first accurately define it. 

    If the City Council wants more jobs how about reducing taxes and burdensome regulations that some business owners have told me is a big problem in Evanston.

    It is also alarming that ETHS school officials are afraid to encourage students to join its career pathway programs because "they don't want to be accused of tracking black or brown students into vocational programs." I guess they have no problem tracking white students into these programs.

    Taxpayers pay $20,000 per ETHS student and D202 bureaucrats are not "encouraging" minority students to go into vocational programs!!!!!! That sounds like blatant racism to me.  

    Illinois needs a school voucher system so parents can choose which school to send their kids. But the Democratic party that controls Illinois and supported by the powerful Teacher's Union kill any bill that advocates a school voucher system.

    The people most hurt by this are "brown and black students." Ain't that a kick in the head.


  2. Less than an hour to Oakton

    An hour and 42 minutes from Evanston to the Oakton Campus? The Mayor obviously has either never checked a schedule or actually ridden the bus.

    I travel there all the time on Pace.  The Pace 208 runs from Davis to Oakton in about 45 minutes–or about the same time it takes to get to downtown Chicago on the El.  

    I also ride my bike out there every so often.  It is about 10.5 miles and takes less than an hour from Downtown Evanston.

    If she really wants to help people access the facility she would tell Pace to run more frequent buses.  The problem now is that they only run twice per hour.

    But let's not mislead about the time it takes to get out there on public transit.


  3. Let’s change the conversation

    I concur with Mayor Tisdahl that jobs are the best way to combat poverty. But, as I’ve noted in these pages before, jobs and job training are not the same thing. In fact, there are already a host of good vocational options in place for young people at the high school (and no doubt ETHS officials would bristle at the suggestion that they are failing to make those opportunities known to all students).

    So let’s stop side-tracking assessments of poverty and employment by talking about job training or commuting problems. What we need are more jobs, right here and right now, and especially decent jobs that pay livable wages. What more can the City do to create good jobs and ensure that our residents get first crack at them? That is the discussion that the City Council needs to have. We should be looking at the hiring policies of our largest employers – Northwestern, our hospitals, and our public schools – and challenge them to employ more Evanston residents, especially in entry-level positions. We should insist that any business receiving taxpayer subsidies include local hiring as part of the deal.  We should focus attention on those highly profitable companies that have operations here (fast-food restaurants, for instance) and throw our support behind the campaign to raise wages to livable levels, because right now workers in these places can’t make enough to climb out of poverty.

    And, while many who comment here like to invoke (and lampoon) Evanston’s progressive reputation, in fact we are far behind other places, of varying political hues, in this regard. Voters this week in New Jersey and in a Seattle suburb endorsed increases in their minimum wage rates, and the citizens of South Dakota (hardly a liberal bastion) gathered enough signatures to place a minimum wage hike on the ballot there. And New Haven remains my favorite example of a city, with much in common to ours, that is facing its unemployment problem more aggressively and immediately.

    We can do more – other places are. We can start by recognizing that job training and job creation are two separate issues. We’ve talked about job training quite a bit. Let’s move on to what we can do to create good jobs, right here and right now, for Evanston residents.


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