Aldermen agreed tonight to hold a special meeting with housing developers before acting on an inclusionary housing program.

The aldermen were deeply split in discussing details of the program. Some wanted to toughen it beyond what had been proposed by staff last month. Others voiced fears that it would kill off development in the city.

City Manager Julia Carroll proposed the session with developers. A date for the meeting has not yet been set.

Ms. Carroll told aldermen in a memo that she believes “the ordinance, in its present form, may significantly hamper new planned developments in Evanston.”

She said it also “will have the effect of raising the overall price of units in Evanston and forcing even more people out of the city.”

Ms. Carroll said she supports adoption of an inclusionary housing policy, but “I feel that we have not come up with the right set of criteria, and have not sufficiently balanced the social policy and economic issues to recommend the adoption of this ordinance in its current form.”

During tonight’s Planning and Development Committee meeting Community Development Director James Wolinski suggested that the city could make its affordable housing dollars go farther by focusing on rehabilitation of existing housing units rather than new construction.

He said the city has had success in creating affordable housing in several neighborhoods that way, but he conceded that rehab projects are likely to be concentrated in areas of town where housing costs already are lower, rather than areas like downtown that have seen the greatest increase in new construction.

In a memo, Assistant Community Development Director Dennis Marino provided a range of projections for how much new affordable housing might be produced by the ordinance. Over five years, he estimated the likely range would be 115 to 210 units.

That is 5.5 to 10 percent of the number of units the city estimates became unaffordable over the past five years.

The latest draft of the ordinance increases the share of units in planned developments with 25 or more units that would have to be affordable from 10 percent to 15 percent.

It also gives aldermen a range of options for increasing the required affordability period, the proportion of affordable units that would have to be built on site and the formula for calculating payments for units not built on site.

The city’s law department has recommended including new rental construction and condominium conversions as well as the original target — new condominium construction — under the inclusionary housing requirements to avoid possible constitutional challenges to the ordinance on equal protection grounds.

Some aldermen objected to the expansion, saying it would kill those market segments.

A new memo from Assistant Corporation Counsel Ellen Szymanski suggests the city could avoid the equal protection problem if it can show that the affordability problem only exists for new condo construction — not rentals or condo conversions. But the memo said city staff doesn’t yet have sufficient data to support such a conclusion.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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