Recap: City Council on affordable housing

A coach house in the 1700 block of Asbury Avenue.

Here's a recap of our live coverage of tonight's Evanston City Council meeting at which aldermen are scheduled to discuss several proposals for increasing the supply of affordable housing in the city -- including removing a ban on renting coach houses to non-family members.

The meeting is scheduled to get underway at 6 p.m.

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

Meeting called to order at 6:09 p.m.

Starts with a special proclamation for Blake Edwards, the ETHS basketball player who made a spectacular shot over the weekend.

Announcements made about upcoming Black History Month programs in Evanston.

City clerk announces that mail in ballot applications are available now. Deadline is March 15 to return them.

Early voting March 5 through March 19.

Public Comment

15 people signed up to speak.

Speaker calls for ban on cold-weather evictions.

Doug Sharp -- urges 9 month moratorium on new large-scale residential developments.

Calls for increase in opt-out fee for affordable housing fund to $300K ... triple what it is now.

Michael Daneroff, NU student, urges repeal of three-unrelated rule in rental units.

Says about 1,000 students are living now in what are illegal units.

Other students offer examples of students being disadvantaged by the ordinance -- claims they're subjected to extortion because of it.

Peter Dalton compares fee-in-lieu program to paying substitutes for draftees during the Civil War.

Betsy Simmons says she grew up in Evanston but has had to move to Rogers Park after becoming homeless.

Sue Loellbach, Joining Forces or Affordable Housing, says prior two speakers have benefited from programs the City of Evanston has put together ... and they're on their way to stability -- but will be housing cost burdened for some time because there's not enough affordable housing in the region. Still a gap, no one program will fill it. Encourages city to put together plan to try to fill the gap and obtain the needed reosurces

Tina Paden says that as a landlord she works with a variety of programs to provide housing for low income residents. Says needs more resources to be able to pay the bills. Says very disappointed with the proposed landlored rehabilitation assistance program. Says it calls for loans rather than grants.

Complains that city has provided grants to business owners.

(In fact the business grants are structured as "forgivable loans" -- same as the proposed landlord assistance program.)

Carlis Sutton makes similar complaint to Paden's.

Priscilla Giles argues that towers downtown create crowding, not having four people in an apartment.

End of public comment

SP1 - Affordable Housing Work Plan

Sarah Flax, housing and grants administrator, presents an update on what the staff has been working on.

Notes that the proposed landlord rehab loan/grants would follow the same structure as the facade improvement grants for businesses. 

SP2 - Rental of Accessory Dwelling Units

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says shouldn't include the rent control provision in the accessory unit proposal.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, agrees with Wilson, says too much administrative cost in trying to set rent control.

Says should come up with a way to have people who have been renting out units to get their properties registered.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, says an accessory unit would make the primary housing units more affordable -- makes it easier for people to be able to live in their homes.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, and Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, say they'd like to have some incentive for keeping accessory units affordable.

Council votes to send the proposal to Plan Commission ... without requesting a rent control provision.

SP3 - Landlord Rehabilitation Assistance Program

Wilson says he favors a trial of this program.

Rue Simmons says wants more than a five-year affordability period. 

Flax says says affordablity period would vary from five to 15 years depending on the size of the grant.

Rue Simmons says up-front funding the match would be difficult.

Flax says the city has a different loan program doesn't require pre-payment.

Fleming suggests a cap on the amount of assistance to a particular landlord. Says would like to attract new landlords who aren't renting at affordable rates now.

Wilson says he agrees that the logistics of the program need to be done a little differently.

Says he's not uncomfortable with a tiered time frame for affordablity requirement.

Flax says could address the upfront money issue.

Rainey suggests not requiring a match from the landlord. Limiting the assistance to $5K per unit. Suggests using the CDBG rehab program for larger projects. Says that requires a few pages of paperwork -- but some owners have renovated entire buildings with that program.

Flax says that one restriction of the CDBG program is that if the property has eight or more units have to pay prevailing wage rates.

Rue Simmons says should use the proposed new program or structural and major maintenance issues -- not cosmetics.

Revelle says she agrees with Rue Simmons about addressing major needs. 

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says can come back with a revised proposal at the Feb. 26 meeting of the Administration and Public Works Committee.

Says there are some contradictory issues on the table -- may need to come back with multiple scenarios then.

Mayor says he favors a plan that would require a match by the landlord -- says people need to have skin in the game to make the program successful.

(Lengthy discussion continues)

Council votes to send proposal back to staff or revision and then to A&PW committee.

SP4 - Rooming Houses Research

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, asks how many of the properties on the map are licensed.

Savannah Clement, of city staff, says all of them are licensed. (Most of those listed are NU dorms, then hotels. Actually only about seven are what would typically be considered rooming houses.)

Fiske says should be focused on single-family owner-occupied homes that could be rooming houses -- could facilitate agiing in place.

Says should have inspections frequently -- supposedly now rooming houses are inspected twice a year.

Rainey says there's no protection for tenants living in rooming houses. Can be locked out if don't pay rent on time. Can be thrown out if the rooming house owner doesn't like you. Says landlord-tenant ordinance doesn't apply. For those reasons she doesn't like them.

Rainey says she wants to remove the three-unrelated rule. Says there's not reason for it. Says already have a law that limits the number of people per square foot.

"We need to put on our big girl pants and allow that," she says.

"We've got to come into this century and change that law," Rainey says.

Wilson says he completely agrees with Rainey. Says should completely repeal the three-unrelated ordinance.

The reasons people object to it are all covered by the zoning and building rules and the nuisance premisis ordinance.

Says the law provides a bad landlord with an opportunity to take advantage of somebody.

Says spent an awfully long time trying to work out something that would be acceptable to people... but it would be difficult to enforce.

Fiske says she couldn't disagree more.

Says have had strong success in her ward with licensed rooming houses.

But it's because there is an owner in the house.

Things it could include seniors, students and people who want to share their house to help with the taxes.

Rue Simmons says the issues are unique to the 1st and 5th wards. Says the conditions many students are living in now are just not acceptable.

Says should have a community discussion about rooming houses.

Rainey says if people are living in squalor that's a property standards issues -- says need to be doing inspections and citing them.

Wilson says if repeal the three-unrelated rule then people won't be threaten with eviction for reporting property standards violations.

Braithwaite moves to refer the issue to Planning and Development.

Wilson suggests having a public meeting first.

Wynne, chair of P&D, agrees.

Proposal is to have it come to P&D on April 9. That's approved.

Will be a community meeting to discuss the issue before then.

SP 5 - First Time homebuyer program, etc.

Referred to A&PW

SP6 - Rental program to address affordable housing needs

Held till after report from Inclusionary Housing Ordinance subcommittee.

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Revelle suggests the city needs a more comprehensive discussion about how to use affordable money -- how much should go to which programs.

Says she loves the programs, but need priorties for allocating the very scarce resources.

Mayor Hagerty says the city has a Housing and Homelessness Board -- could assign them the job of developing a priority list.

Rue Simmons asks about accessibility requirements. Flax says there are accessibility requirements for larger building.

Says accessory units -- built on grade -- can create more accessible units over time.

Says making all units accessible -- because of universal design requirements -- requires larger unit sizes, which in turn increases costs.

Bobkiewicz suggests holding off on developing the priority list until after the inclusionary housing subcommittee has reported its conclusions.

Revelle says the previous report from Housing and Homelessness is largely out of date (was focused on the foreclosure crisis).

So no referral on this item at this point.

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Call of the wards

Rue Simmons ... asks for report from the Economic Development Committee and pluses/minuses of the form based zoning code that was adopted for the west side in 2006.

Fiske ... makes reference to A&PW for security fence on Sherman Avenue garage.

Council votes to go into executive session,

Public meeting ends at 8:45 p.m.

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