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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Downpayment assistance sounds like a better idea
    I would tend to agree with Alderman Bernstein – between that and the City’s first time homebuyer’s program, we might have a better shot at actually getting empty buildings filled with homeowners, which is the real purpose of these dollars. Maybe this money, with oversight (we don’t want it going to slumlords,) could be used to aid victims of the mortgage crisis and keep current homeowners in Evanston.

    I think refurbishing old or unuseable housing stock (essentially what the housing development groups are doing, though they then sell at a discount) is a different issue and should be considered separately from affordable housing.

    Find out more about Brummel Park Neighbors and Michele Hays

  2. Michele – the city efforts have failed on affordable housing
    Michele the city efforts on affording housing appear mostly to be a failure. Looking at the foreclosure map – in the most affordable areas of town they are covered with foreclosurses.

    There is no solution here to use the federal dollars to solve the problem that will work.

    Why? Because the federal programs are like the predatory lenders they are placing people into the housing units that just can not afford them. Given the high taxes here and all the other expenses – and the very low income require to purchase the affordable housing it is a losing deal.

    Actually all the city efforts just lead to more taxes and make it even more unaffordable to live here for people with moderate incomes.

    The 5th ward is in serious decay – the council appears to not have any real answers, they can not even figure out how to renovate two small branch library correctly how do you think the correct problems in neighborhoods with serious crime problems and economic issues?

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