Recap: Special City Council

Here's a recap of our live coverage of tonight's special City Council meeting on the issues related to affordable housing and the 2019 city budget.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

A packet with information on tonight's agenda items is available online.

Meeting called to order at 6:07 p.m.

Here's the streaming video of the meeting, split into three segments.

Mayor calls for moment of silence to remember the victims of the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.

Public Comment is available in full on our streaming video.

Mayor says Clerk Reid's timer on his phone is working great to help keep the comments moving along.

Public Comment ends at 7:05 p.m.

SP 1 - Special Benefits for Planned Developments

Staff asks for next steps. City manager says could refer to Plan Commisison, or drop the idea.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, says developers and the community both need a clearer description of public benefits.

Suggests referring to the Plan Commission to come up with recommendations.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says want to see more tangible benefits (rather than just more tax revenue).

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says should consider the "equity lens" in this area. Says many of the current public benefits relate to green space. Says need to look a more holistically from an equity standpoint.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, says would like to see things that refer to more benefits for actual people, more so than green space.

Also wants more consideration of whether developer could put benefits into another part of the city. Says her ward will never get a huge planned development -- so won't see benefits under the current scheme.

Says doesn't think Divvy bikes, transit sign displays or some other things as benefits.

Alderan Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, says would like to put together a list of recommendations.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, says council is more diverse than the plan commission, so should keep the conversation here at City Council.

Bobkiewicz says Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, (who's home sick and calling in with thoughts) agrees with Fleming regarding getting benefits out into neighborhoods that aren't actually getting the new developments.

City Attorney Michelle Masoncup says case law is pretty clear that the benefits have to apply to the area immediately surrounding the new project.

Mayor says the matter will be referred to the Plan Commission

SP 2 - Downtown Zoning Regulations

Fiske says she Wynne and Revelle have been talking about this issue. Thinks need to have at least one more meeting.

Wynne says thinks were making some serious progress but need at least one more meeting.

Wilson says he hopes the group is leaning against the 2009 downtown plan, which, he says, was based on incredibly flawed assumptions.

So issue to stay in committee for now.

SP 3 - Affordable housing work plan progress report

Presenttion from Sarah Flax, housing and grants administrator, is available here.

Fleming asks about the three-unrelated rule. Flax says for now changes to that are on hold.

Fiske wants to "receive and place on file" rather than "accept and place on file" the report.

That's done.

SP 4 - Amendments to inclusionary housing ordinance

Rainey says of seven developments over the past several years have generated the possiblity, when they're complete, of 43 units of affordable housing. Of those 17 will be studios 19 one bednroom 7 two bedroom 1 three bedroom.

Says four units are occupied at 824 Noyes. Says Community Partners for Affordable Housing has delivered one unit from the affordable housing fund.

So so far only have five families living in units now.

Says there are two units complete at 1571 Maple ... but still vacant because can't get anybody to qualify for the units.

Says while we want affordable housing in the units of the developments that are getting approved, it is inefficient and financilly mkes no sense to do it.

Says could have providing subsidies to 50 to 60 families with subsidies, in existing housing instead.

Says the new housing works great for seniors and the disabled -- because the have elevators.

But the program doesn't do much of anything for families.

Says people should keep their minds open about off-site solutions. Likes the idea of raising the in lieu fee to $300K.

Says current federal program of subsidies helps with monthy rent but doesn't cover other needs like utility deposits, moving costs and other needs.

Fiske says its so complicated but the city has been making progress. Says need to look at with an equtiy lens.

Wilson says he's always had reservations about how the inclusionary housing programs will actually work. Committee tried to make the ordinance better than what we've had before.

Says the equity question is a serious one. Says if make the building cost more for the developer -- the people who are going to cover that cost are the market rate tenants in the building. Says developers are never going to cut their profit margins. As push the subsidy number higher, will end up creating fewer units nd hiogher margin -- with units of a luxury nature.

Says people want a significant amount of housing that's still affordable.

Don't want only $5000 a month rentals or $800K condos.

Fleming says she doesn't like the ordinance provision that allows lower quality finishes in the affordable unit -- says may stigmatize the residents.

Says all people should have the same things.

Says should push the fee in lieu higher.

Being a desirable city, we can push them harder, she says.

Flax says on Noyes

3 br unit has family of four that's paying $1,192 per month. (had been on wait list since nov. 2015

Says that's a pretty amazing deal

2br unit has famliy of four thats paying $800+ per month

1 br has $832 per month

These are families that work and have jobs, Flax says.

Revelle says she's struggled about the fee in lieu started out at $300K mark, but has been won over to Wilson's point of view -- concerned how costs will be passed on and whether will achieve what we watn to achieve. (Now favors $175K ... existing ordinance has $100K rate.)

Says havling at least half of the affordable units on site is is an improvement.

Wynne says she also, reluctantly, supports the $175K in lieu level. Suggests a three-year review period for the revised ordinance.

Says concerned about trend to smaller units -- outrageously priced we think, but developers say they can rent them.

They do fill a niche, she says, but three bedrooms are getting to be very rare.

Changes her mind and calls for a two-year review period instead.

Flax, in response to question from Wilson, says the NSP2 program had a budget of about $16 million plus some other funding. Rehabbed 101 units.

Says getting 41 units of affordable housing that the developers are funding and city doesn't have to use public money for is pretty remarkable.

Wilson says 2.5 years ago had a pretty big line of would-be developers -- don't have near as big a line now.

Wynne goes back to calling for a three-year review period.

Her amendment is approved.

Ordinance approved 9-0.

Mayor calls it a big step forward for the city.

Bobkiewicz says city is having some trouble with the comcast cable audio of the meeting. But audio is OK on the live stream online.

SP 5 - $200 fee for existing dwelling unit plus fines for renting unregestered unit.

Approved.

SP 6 - Intergovernmental agreement for assessment of fair housing.

Approved.

SP 7 - Different forms of shared housing.

Report reviewed and placed on file.

SP 8 - Evanston Development Cooperative Presentation

Dick Co, 7th Ward resident, does presentation.

Says he's a chemistry professor who's turned into a home developer.

Built the NU solar challenge house.

Plans to do job creation and workforce training ... as well as build homes.

Plans to start by building accessory dwelling units, coach houses

Says need collaboration with various community partners to make the program work.

(Gets applause at conclusion of presentation.)

Mayor asks what looking or from Council

Co says no one else has tried it. Not asking anything from city now -- other that will be looking at how to do this in a neighborly, interesting, equitable way.

Fiske ... says land acquisition costs are huge here. Says coach houses seem like a good way to start.

Co says coach house idea is attractive because owner already owns the land, eliminating that element of the cost.

In response to question Co says typically might build the coach house atop a newly built garage.

Says the "co-op" is the business building the houses, the dwellings themselves would be privately owned.

Wynne says the idea is very interesting. Would like to get a lot more information.

Co says hope to have website up at evanston.coop later this year.

Back to SP-4

Suspending the rules for reconsideration.

(Was an alternative in the proposal and council didn't make the choice of which way to go).

Suspension is approved.

Question is which level of median income for sale units would be -- either all at 100%

or half at 80% and half at 100%

Flax says problem is that it's difficult to find people who can qualify who have the 80% income level

Wilson says his inclination is to go with 100% ... but doesn't have strong opinion.

Vote is to go with the 100% level

Vote is to 8-1 with Rue Simmons voting no.

Ordinance as amended is approved 8-1.

Bobkiewicz says the schedule is now out of 5th Mondays ... unless want to go for Dec. 31. Wynne suggests serving champaigne.

So next affordable housing special meeting won't be until next year.

SP 10- Affordable Housing Plan steering committee appointments

Mayor says had more than 50 applicants.

Wilson moves approval.

It's an ad-hoc committee, the mayor says, to help put together an overall affordable housing plan.

Approved 5-4. Fiske, Rue Simmons, Suffredin and Fleming vote no

SP - 11 - Reappointment of Rob Bady to the Preservation Commission

Approved.

SP - 9 - Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Workshop

Rainey asks how decision made to make the Health Department cuts

Bobkiewicz says none of the department directors will endorse the cuts proposed.

Says the focal point with the health department was to focus on programs not funded by grant funds but intsead through the general fund.

Says the communicable disease position should not have been put forward for elimination, was miscommunication about that.

Says health department does important work, but have difficult budget issue to work with.

Evonda Thomas Smith says health department has to, under state code, has to do food safety, infection disease and potable water issues.

Says community health certification brings additional grant funding

Evanston is one of four certified health department in the state outside Chicago.

Says now certified for 2016 through 2021. Takes about 18 months to do the assessments.

For FY19, with CDBG, total grant funding is $800K. The CDBG is $388K and is not tied to the certification. 

Could do vital records three days a week and could reduce the cost and still capture the revenue from the service.

Braithwaite says he's concerned about health cuts. Says health department has really been pouned on and has cost some services that people in black and brown communities have suffered.

Bobkiewicz says is certified now through 2021. Says could potentially combine the two positions scheduled to be cut into one.

Wilson asks for more detail on the service delivery options.

Braithwaite moves to reinstate the assistant director $160K and the educator $88K and communicable disease $112K positions. Rue Simmons seconds.

Fiske asks what "moving them to the other column" means.

Bobkiewicz says it's a straw vote. Says those three moves would raise the deficit by 

Says a management analyst costs about $85K. He's suggesting restoring the communicable disease specialist and adding a management analyst but not replacing the assistant director and educator.

Thomas Smith says, in response to question from Rainey that she's not certain she could find a person with the qualifications to do the study needed for recertification.

Wilson says he doesn't want to do any of the cuts. Doesn't want to close the fire station closest to his house. But also doesn't want to create any false security in the community because things may go back and forth. Things could get changed back.

Wilson says he's not going to take anything off the list unless there's a counterbalancing alternative cut or new source of revenue.

Braithwaite says not looking at legal expenses, workers comp payouts, the addition to reserves.

Mayor says all the services are critical.

Fiske says she's not ready to do straw votes tonight.

Suffredin says hd 45 public comments tonight and only one, Judith Treadway, raised any ideas about how to pay for things.

Vote on Braithwaite's motion to restore the three health positions. Braithaite, Rue Simmons, Rainey and Fleming vote yes. So motion fails.

Manager says that he's proposing to restore the communicable disease speciaist positions.

Now to look at a possible combination of the two remaining positions

Rainey asks for an additional meeting. Mayor suggests could hold another meeting next Monday (when were scheduled to have an executive session anyway.

Hitesh Desai says projected real estate transfer revenue for end of year is $3.5 million versus budget of $3.2 million.

Clerk Devon Reid says his office can take over the vital records program, generating $100K in revenue and make the service available all day everyday. (presumably with no increase in staff).

Looking at revenue increases

Losts of parking fee increases $850K for general fund.

There's nearly another $3 million in increae for the parking fund

Fleming says she's concerned about Sunday fees for churches and restaurants. And thinks free parking at decks on Sunday is unfair to neighborhood business districts. Says no reason to give people downtown a better deal on Sunday parking.

Says think are nickel and diming people. Says may need to go to a small tax increase.

Erika Storlie, assistant city manager, says people in neighborhood districts can walk a bit and find free on-street parking.

Wynne says should index the parking rates for inflation. But says shouldn't charge for parking Sunday mornings.

Says worried about doubling meter prices from $1 to $2 ... could support 25 or 50 cent increase ... recognizes the bigger increase raises a big chunck of money. Says retail is really struggling and doesn't want to make it harder for merchants.

Storlie says increase to $1.50 would raise about $1M versus $2M if raise it to $2.

Fiske OK with increasing the off-street lot rate by $10.

Says doesn't want to increase the meter rate to $2. Also concerned about Sunday morning church parking.

Suffredin suggests a credit on the wheel tax for using the parking app.

Storlie says could do that. Also notes that Chicago waives the app fee if you max out the parking duration.

Suffredin asks about charging more for more restrictive residential parking zones.

Storlie says would need to start that next fall, because sales for 2019 are already underway. Could make that change if Council wants.

Suffedin asks about shorter term leases on lots ...maybe do bidding on it.

Storlie says city is switching to monthly rates for the lots.

Braithwaite says some folks at his budget meeting were interested in a property tax increase if it was targeted to a particular fund.

Bobkiewicz says the property tax now is not enough to cover the police and fire expenses.

He says could try to have a special public safety property tax -- if the county allows it.

Braithwaite asks about selling assets. Bobkiewicz says can't come up with answer in the next couple of weeks -- but could look into that issue for early next year.

Hagerty says that wouldn't solve the current budget issue anyway -- but could 

Hagerty says that if want to close a $7.5 million budget gap with a property tax increase it would require an 18 percent increase in the property tax. (The city share of the property tax is expected to raise about $49 million next year.)

Fiske proposes increasing off street parking from $60 to $90/month

Wilson suggests charging for B&Bs (since already charging from other vacation rentals)

Fleming says Chicago is looking at a quarterly wheel tax payment plan -- says that would provide more flexibility to people on limited incomes.

Fleming thinks a $75 fee for a block party is too high. Revelle agrees. Says there's a community benefit to the block parties.

Braithwaite asks about the $1.5 million transfer to reserves. What if only transfer $1 million? Could do it later in the year.

Bobkiewicz says it's a policy decision of the Council. It's prudent to have more money in the bank. Potentially guards against bad surprises from Springfield. Also helps keep borrowing costs down.

Possible other revenue ideas ....

Fleming .... favors eliminating car allowances for employees. Also says she's highly concerned about the car allowance the library director is given.

Fiske ... suggests tax on private bus services (i.e, Northwestern) and a charge or service fee on fire responses to NU.

Rainey ... wants a report on outstanding alarm fees and fines.

Fleming ... concerned about cost of maintaining Merrick Rose Garden. Can city find volunteers for that?

Suffredin ... asks about the Judith Treadway's idea of taxing the pay of non-resident employees.

Suffredin ... asks about taxing video gaming. Bobkiewicz says Evanston banned the games, would need to repeal that audience.

Mayor asks staff to identify some city assets to after this budget season to start analysis regarding possible sale of assets, could include parking garages.

Mayor says there will be a public meeting on the budget on Monday, Nov. 5, after the Human Services Meeting.

Meeting adjourned at 11:15 p.m.

 

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