Evanston City Council members voted 8-1 this week to spend $1.675 million to acquire seven adjacent lots on Emerson Street and Jackson Avenue to redevelop for affordable housing.

Opposition from neighbors had scared off a would-be private purchaser of the site in 2018 who had hoped to build market-rate condominiums — a development that would have been required to include 10% affordable units under the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance.

The parcels the city plans to buy are highlighted on this aerial view from Google Maps.

And some of the same neighbors this week opposed the city’s purchase.

Landlord Carlis Sutton called it “stealing from the poor” to give to the rich.

Roberta Hudson, who owns a home nearby, said “affordable housing has not worked.”

And landlord Tina Paden suggested that with the city’s purchase black people should “pack your bags” because new development in town “is not for you.”

But another homeowner near the site, Jeff Masters, spoke in favor of the city purchase, saying he’d rather work with the city on a redevelopment plan than with the current owner.

Ald. Bobby Burns, whose 5th Ward includes the site, said that with the city owning the land it would be possible to achieve a much higher level of affordability in the project.

Until the city develops a request for proposals seeking developers to build on the site, and gets responses from prospective developers, it will not be clear how much affordable housing the site could generate or what form it would take.

But some supporters, including Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) compared it to planned development on a city-owned parking lot on South Boulevard east of Chicago Avenue.

A rendering of the proposed development at 504-514 South Boulevard.

There PIRHL Developers, LLC is planning to build 60 apartments, including 19 three-bedroom units, with 48 of the units at subsidized affordable rates.

Sarah Flax, the city’s housing and grants manager, told Evanston Now Wednesday that the PIRHL project has now receive approval from the Housing Authority of Cook County, which has four existing townhouse units on a portion of the site.

The developer has not yet submitted for zoning approvals for the development from the city and also needs to secure low income housing tax credits from the state to fund the development.

The city purchase of the Emerson and Jackson properties would occur at a price established by an appraisal conducted earlier this month.

The funds are to come from a combination of tax increment financing district funds and the city’s affordable housing fund.

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) cast the only vote against the proposal. She insisted that details of what would be built on the site and its ownership structure should be worked out before the purchase.

But Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said this was not the time to answer those questions — that they could be worked out later, after the city owns the land.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. This seems like a great deal for the owner who let the properties decline that way. What was the private developer prepared to pay? Buying a string of properties without a solid plan on the part of the City about what to do with them is foolish- but then again, we are TIF-rich!

  2. Those lots will fetch a pretty penny when the new Fifth Ward school is built and opened. I wouldn’t be surprised if other lots were being bought up by private developers and builders who will build high end housing and begin the gentrification of the Fifth Ward, much to the chagrin of the current population. Perhaps the city, by purchasing these lots, will be able to guarantee affordable housing and equitable opportunities for existing residents to stay and enjoy the rise in property values.

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