A kiss of death for affordable housing

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 Evanston’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



Check Out the 8th Ward!

Those who complain that there is currently not enough affordable housing in Evanston are simply not looking hard enough. For instance, the website for Sue Carlson's group "Evanston's Affordable Housing Future" (http://www.evanstonhousing.com) claims that "the median selling price of a home in 2004 was $383,000," meaning that an individual or family would have to have an income of just under $120,000 a year to afford a "home." These statistics are misleading in a number of ways.

First, $383,000 is simply a MEDIAN price, meaning that half were more expensive, half less. Moreover, the price quoted appears to be for single-family houses. This completely discounts the other type of housing available to buyers, including condominiums and townhomes.

I encourage people who believe there is not enough affordable housing in Evanston to take a look at the housing stock in the 8th Ward. We have many condos that are well below the median "home" price of $383,000 and fall within in the range considered "affordable." Many of them are even large enough for families with multiple children.

The idea that anybody but the super-rich can buy property in Evanston is fallacy. Yes, some compromises may have to be made -- you may not be able to buy in the mansion district, and you may have to "settle" for a condo as opposed to a single-family house -- but property ownership in Evanston can be within the reach of many people who are willing to make the sacrifices.

There are several "For Sale" signs around the Brummel Park area. I urge people to consider these units (many of which are in beautiful vintage buildings) before affordable housing in Evanston is declared nonexistent.

kiss of death or distrust of electorate

To state that voting for an increase in a tax by referendum is a "kiss of death" displays either an extreme distrust of the electorate, or an admission of weakness on the part of the proposed tax.

To distrust the electorate by stating that a vote is a "kiss of death" leads one to suspect that only a marxist or dictatorial government is the only effective means of passing "good" laws. That the electorate cannot find value in a proposed referendum dismisses the intelligence of the electorate. If not this issue, then why not other issues?

The affordable housing issue has been promulgated for years and if projects such as Darrows is an example of what is desired, then by all means let it suffer at the hands of the electorate. Darrows did not make economic sense on a per square foot basis and to dismiss that by saying it was "free" money simply displays ignorance of economic principals.

To attack Ann Rainey for making a proposal that trusts the electorate's wisdom is an attack on basic American principles. As Kristin has so aptly stated, the median house figure is just that -- there is housing above and below.

As for the horror of stating it as a 20% increase. Well my understanding of math tells me it is just that, or do we need a special math for affordable housing numbers. Math that would hide $350+/sq ft housing costs?

I have noticed the same

I have noticed the same tendency on the part of the City Council to favor developers and act without community awareness or resident input. The handling of the Civic Center is another example. In my opinion, the wording of any affordable housing referendum may well determine it's acceptance. For instance, if the question were worded "Do you support an increase in the real estate transfer tax from 0.65 percent to 0.75 percent, in order to establish a fund for affordable housing?", I believe that the measure would pass. On the other hand, if the question were worded, "Do you support a 20% increase in the real estate transfer tax in order to establish a fund for affordable housing?", the result would be quite different. Taking a cynical view, I would venture to guess that the Council would put the question on the ballot stressing the 20% increase rather than using the actual number so that they are off the hook when the measure fails. I'd like to see the increase enacted, but exclude sellers selling because of hardship (loss of job, moving into a nursing home and things of that nature). I'd also like to see a percentage donation to an affordable housing fund made by developers making huge profits here in Evanston, but not contributing to the community.