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Darrow debate: Who’s a stakeholder?

A decision on the Darrow Corners affordable housing project could turn on who aldermen consider a stakeholder in Evanston.

Mary McAuley, an owner of the rental lofts building across the street from the project site at the intersection of Church Street and Darrow Avenue, said at Monday’s Planning and Development Committee meeting, “the big issue with the neighbors is that there will be no stakeholders in this building.”

She urged that the developer seek out other financing solutions for the 27-unit project that would let at least a portion of it become owner-occupied condominiums immediately, rather than being held as a rental property for 15 years before its condo conversion.

But the developer, Richard Koenig of the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation, said that approach is “cost prohibitive. Whether we got bank financing or borrowed from the city’s tax increment financing district, it would be terribly expensive to pay back.”

“We’re trying to serve people who make $20,000 to $40,000 a year,” Mr. Koenig said. With bank or TIF financing, he added, the units would have to sell for “in excess of $300,000 per unit to cover costs, while we’d have to sell them for $100,000 to be able to target this income group.”

“And I vehemently disagree with the claim that our residents won’t be stakeholders,” Mr. Koenig said. “There are people who’ve lived on the west side their entire lives as renters, who are part of the community. We are trying to provide the opportunity for them to be stakeholders – to give them the incentive of knowing they can eventually own their units.”

He said the Internal Revenue Service low income housing tax credit program that HODC plans to use has been used to create 150,000 units of affordable housing across the country each year.

HODC has used the program to rehabilitate the Claridge Apartments at 319 Dempster St. in Evanston and to do a project in Morton Grove, but neither of those have the rent-to-own feature proposed for the Darrow project.

The program encourages high-tax bracket investors to make low interest loans for rental housing construction by giving them a credit against their taxes.

The Planning and Development Committee will continue its review of the Darrow project at a special meeting on April 4.

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