Earlier this month, with virtually no resident input, no publicity, our City Council betrayed affordable housing in Evanston with a kiss.
They held out the sweet hope that there would shortly be up to a million dollar pot from which affordable housing developers could draw in order to build affordable housing in our community.
But, for this pot of gold to come about, property owners in Evanston would need to approve a
referendum supporting a substantial increase in the tax paid at the time they sell their property. Currently, when property is sold, a tax is paid to the state, the county and the city totaling 0.65 percent of the sale price. This referendum would increase the city's portion from 0.5 to 0.6 percent, for a new total of 0.75 percent.
Aldermen have loudly complained that Evanstonians are leaving the community because they can't afford the taxes. I have heard these complaints regularly at council meetings. So how does their stance fit with their new vote?
Well, cynically, they indicated that the referendum is a wonderful opportunity for citizens to show how much they value the affordable housing in Evanston.
I believe citizens DO support affordable housing here. Most are aware that without affordable housing, we will not be able to maintain our vibrant, diverse community.
I am an advocate for affordable housing, but simple arithmetic tells me this referendum has failure written all over it. A 20 percent tax increase? Come on!
This Council has had before it for over two years an inclusionary housing proposal that would require developers of buildings over 25 units who want to exceed zoning requirements to provide affordable units in their development or, alternatively, money to the city to build affordable units elsewhere.
The Council has not been willing to require those developers, who have been making lots of money changing our skyline so dramatically, give something back to the community. If they had passed an inclusionary ordinance, THEN come to the citizens and asked for them to share in the cost, it would have shown an exciting vision of EvanstonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s future, and an invitation to all parties in the community to participate in this
Instead, it is only asking citizens to pony up. Does this sound like a City Council that supports a "comprehensive inclusionaryand affordable housing policy"? (Objective B of Goal 2 in recently passed Strategic Plan)
There are other concerns for organizations like the new Citizens' Lighthouse Community Land Trust of which I am a Board Member. Because this is a binding referendum, the council may find it difficult to be supportive of affordable housing measures if it fails. Ald. Rainey made it quite clear in her advocacy for this referendum that the council should use a negative vote as proof that Evanstonians aren't concerned about affordable housing.
This vote should never have happened as it did, without awareness and support in the community, and it must be rescinded at the next council meeting