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Disagreement delays housing vote

Evanston aldermen couldn’t agree this week on how to spend nearly $82,000 in federal housing funds.

The City Council put off until Oct. 27 a vote on recommendation from the Housing Commission that the money be divided equally among the city’s five Community Housing Development Organizations for use to cover their administrative costs.

Aldermen raised concerns about difficulties some of the groups have encountered in recent months in selling affordable housing units in a difficult real estate market.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she was worried the money might be eaten up by paying carrying costs on the groups’ construction financing.

"We’re being asked to make the allocations, yet we have no idea what the housing organizations are spending, because we don’t have any budget information," Rainey said.

The groups in the past have developed and sold 44 owner-occupied affordable housing units. But of 19 units in three recently-completed projects, only six have been successfully sold so far.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, suggested renting out some of the units, but Dennis Marino, the city’s interim community development director, said federal regulations would likely prohibit rentals, although a lease-to-own program might be a possibility

Keith Banks, of the Evanston Community Development Association, said his group had recently expanded its marketing efforts beyond Evanston in an effort to find buyers for its unsold units.

"So you’re telling us the Evanston market is tapped out, and you need to go to the greater Chicago area," Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said. "I thought we were trying to solve affordable housing needs in Evanston for people who lived here or worked here — not trying to solve the needs of the greater metro region."

Banks said the group still prefers to sell to Evanston residents, but "the reality is the market is dead."

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said that while the program is designed to give preference to Evanston residents, "to say they’re the only people who can benefit is wrong. We’re not a closed society."

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, suggested the money might better be used to provide downpayment assistance to help potential home buyers.

But Jean-Baptiste said the housing groups do have legitimate administrative costs that they need help to pay.

The Housing Commission is expected to take another look at the funding options when it meets tomorrow night.

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