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City may beg Habitat to return

Evanston aldermen appeared to agree tonight that the city should do whatever it takes to bring Habitat for Humanity back to town to help develop subsidized housing in the city.

"I believe we should beg them to come back here," Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said as the aldermen reviewed a housing task force report.

Evanston aldermen appeared to agree tonight that the city should do whatever it takes to bring Habitat for Humanity back to town to help develop subsidized housing in the city.

"I believe we should beg them to come back here," Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said as the aldermen reviewed a housing task force report.

"It was politics that drove Habitat away," Rainey said, "and I think they’re just exactly what we need."

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, "Part of the job of mayor seems to involve a lot of begging, so I’d be happy to be involved in it."

Andrew McGonigle, a task force member and an employee in Northwestern University’s facilities management department, said Habitat, which once operated in Evanston, now has its nearest projects in Waukegan.

McGonigle said NU students in "Greeks for Habitat" have spent the last two years going to build low-cost housing there.

McGonigle said the task force met with the student group, and that they are interested in doing work in Evanston.

McGonigle also suggested that the business school at Northwestern could help the city’s non-profit community housing development organizations develop better business models for their operations.

The city has five small housing groups which have struggled to complete their projects as the housing market deteriorated in recent years.

The task force report emphasizes shifting the city’s housing efforts, largely funded by federal grants, to focus on rental housing for the next few years, rather than the emphasis on construction of for-sale units that drove the strategy in recent years.

Although the task force report voiced fears that speculators might sweep in and snap up distressed properties in town, task force Chair Susan Munro conceded, when asked by Tisdahl, that it’s "hard to document" any signs of such activity so far.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the task force report is "an excellent starting point" for the City Council’s goal setting process on housing policy and that he plans to present a work plan on the topic to the council after the new city budget is adopted in February.

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