City officials are still trying to decide whether any of Evanston’s five troubled non-profit Community Housing Development Organizations should be allowed to take on new projects in town.

At the City Council Rules Committee meeting Wednesday night, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said, “We’re looking to reconstitute the team that we have in Evanston working on affordable housing.”

The city gets about $500,000 a year from the federal government’s HOME program for affordable housing efforts. And, under federal rules, the city has to spend at least 15 percent of that money on projects that involve the private groups, called CHODs.

But aldermen soured on the existing groups over the past several years as many of their projects ran into substantial delays and cost overruns.

And, with the decline in the housing market leading to increased vacancy levels, combined with the city program now underway to spend over $18 million in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds to rehab affordable housing units, some aldermen are questionning the need for the HOME program.

“I don’t see that we need any more units of affordable housing until those we have are occupied,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, during a status update from the city’s Housing Commission.

Rainey also complained that some units built with HOME funds have fallen into foreclosure, and suggested that the housing groups failed to adequately screen potential buyers for their ability to hold onto the properties.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said some of the housing groups’ projects have become a blight on the neighborhoods where they’ve been built.

“I want to look at police calls and property standards complaints on these properties,” Burrus said. “I will vehemently oppose giving any money to CHDOs that are disrupting their neighborhoods.”

The existing housing groups, Bobkiewicz said, “have had some difficult times, and the model that’s been in place for the last several years has proved to not be as effective as the City Council would like to see it.”

He said the city isn’t limiting its review to the existing groups, but is also considering partnering with groups that have operated successfully elsewhere in Illinois.

The city currently has nearly $1 million in uncommitted funds in its HOME program account.

On a related subject, Rainey also pressed the Housing Commission, most of whose members are newly appointed, to re-examine the city ordinance that requires developers of new housing to contribute to the city’s affordable housing fund.

Rainey suggested the requirement has become an obstacle to getting any new housing built in town.

The city’s housing planner, Mary Ellen Poole, said that, with the stabilization program grant leading to a lot of additions to the affordable housing stock in the two city census tracts targeted by the grant, the city is trying to focus other programs on other parts of the city so as to avoid overly concentrating the stock of affordable housing.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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