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The candidates to become alderman of Evanston’s 5th Ward offer different blends of two elixers when asked to prescribe a cure for hard-to-afford housing prices in town.

At Saturday’s candidate forum at the Civic Center Daniel Featherson place the strongest emphasis on raising incomes through job creation, while the other candidates focused more on subsidizing housing costs.

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Daniel Featherson.

“We’re not gonna TIF, or grant, or tax our way out of this situation,” Featherson said. “What we need to do is bring in small business owners” to create jobs “and make it easier for them to open up businesses.”

“We also have to teach people how to learn the skills where they can start their own businesses,” he added.

Carolyn Murray.

Carolyn Murray said the city should bring back the first-time homebuyer program that helped her buy her home over 15 years ago.

Robin Rue.

Robin Rue mentioned that program as well as a downpayment assistance program that no longer exists.

Evanston Now asked the city’s housing and grants administrator, Sarah Flax, what happened to those two programs.

She said the first time homebuyer program was developed in the 1980s when mortgage interest rates were extremely high.

Six regional banks and the city partnered to create a not-for-profit organization that made below-market-rate loans to income qualified home buyers.

But many of the banks involved were acquired by national firms that had less interest in the program, Flax says, and with interest rates much lower now than when it was established, the value of the program also declined, so that the non-profit group that made the loans eventually was dissolved.

The separate downpayment assistance program — which provided a forgivable loan to reduce buyers’ required downpayments to 3 percent of a home’s price — ran into two obstacles, Flax said.

First, after the real estate market collapse late last decade, lenders dramatically tightened their credit-worthiness rules, and moderate income would-be home buyers couldn’t qualify for the primary loan on a property.

Second, the federal government slashed by half the city’s allocation of HOME funds that had funded the program.

Given those factors, Flax said, the city decided to focus the remaining HOME dollars on providing assistance to renters rather than home buyers.

Misty Witenberg.

Rue and Misty Witenberg mentioned a variety of other program ideas. For Rue they included expanding the scope of the inclusionary housing ordinance to produce more subsidized units and making sure elderly homeowners know about the property tax exemptions that they are eligible for.

Witenberg suggested “partnering with mission-driven lenders” to provide downpayment assistance and that home-sharing programs could help seniors hang onto their homes.

Carlis Sutton.

Meanwhile, Carlis Sutton claimed the city has the money, but lacks “the moral initiative” to provide affordable housing.

He suggested “cooperating with the churches in our community to make sure that every elerly person can get the funds to stay in his home and that every person who wants to remain in Evanston can afford to live here.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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3 Comments

  1. Candidate tax returns
    I want all Mayoral candidates tax returns for at least prior year visible for constituents.

    1. Did anyone bother to ask?
      Did anyone bother to ask whether the City of Evanston should be involved in such programs in the first place? Actually, if the city government does a bang-up job at a reasonable property tax rate, property prices should rise in response – why should this be a cause of concern?

      Ironically, anecdotally, I do not see property prices here rising much, not compared to NYC etc. So, yes, I agree 100% that this is an opportunity/household income problem – not a property price problem.

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