Yard signs backing a 20 percent increase in Evanston’s real estate transfer tax for affordable housing have sprouted outside the Evanston YWCA, and letters from a local realtor’s group opposing the increase are showing up in mailboxes around town.

All the talk about whether Evanstonians should fork over more tax dollars to fund affordable housing raises the question: How tough is it to afford a home here?

Survey results released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau help answer that question.

The bureau’s numbers show that the mismatch between income and housing costs is worse in Evanston than it is for Illinois as a whole, but Evanston’s numbers come close to matching those for Chicago.

Owners do a little better in Evanston than Chicago, renters do a little worse.

In Evanston 39.4 percent of home owners spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing. In Chicago it’s 42.8 percent. For Illinois as a whole it’s 30.8 percent.

In Evanston 55.1 percent of renters spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing. In Chicago it’s 50.9 percent. For Illinois as a whole its 46.1 percent.

How does Illinois compare with the rest of the nation? Illinois ranks 10th in the nation in the percentage of residents with a mortgage who pay 30 percent or more of their income for housing. Here 37.2 percent pay that much, compared to 47.7 percent in California, the state with the highest housing cost burden, and 21.5 percent in North Dakota, the least costly state.

For renters, Illinois ranks 11th, with 45.7 percent of renters paying 30 percent or more of their income for housing. Again California is highest, at 51.7 percent. Wyoming ranks as most affordable for renters with 30.6 percent of renters exceeding the cost threshhold there.

Back in 2000, 25.7 percent of Illinois single-family homeowners with mortgages reported spending 30 percent or more of their incomes on housing.

(The Census Bureau included condo owners in the 2005 figures, but not the 2000 numbers, so they are not precisely comparable.)

A New York Times article provides examples from around the country of towns where the housing cost crunch is even more severe than it is in Evanston or Chicago.

Fortunately for Evanston residents, the median family income here has increased nearly as fast as the median home price over the past five years.

Median family income rose 21.3 percent, to $95,663; while the median home price rose 23.7 percent to $338,000.

The increase in the median home price would have been higher, but for the construction of many new condomiums and the conversion of rental properties to condos. With the number of single-family homes increasing only slightly, the generally lower price of condos tended to restrain the median home price increase.

However, an upward trend in mortgage rates since 2000 has reduced somewhat the amount of house that a given family income will buy.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Thoughts on housing
    Income levels growing “nearly as fast” could be due to people being priced out. And we haven’t talked about our community members that can’t afford to live here now. See my blog post, “Vote Yes for Housing” (I thought it too long to post the whole essay here).

  2. affordable housing versus affordable taxes
    What appears to be missing in this debate is the city of Evanston total miss use of our tax dollars. Has the affordable housing program to date produce any real results? The number of units produced has been very small. How many city employees have been involved in this effort using our tax dollars?

    Why are taxes so high in evanston – even those who support affordable housing will admit once they put a family in affordable housing they can not pay the property taxes which are too high! Should this be subsidized also?

    The answer to all this is very simple – more city government that is ineffective continues to just raise our taxes and makes it far less affordable to live here for every one! It cost about 30% more in taxes to live in Evanston that Wilmette on a similar home if all taxes and fees to each city are taken into account. Ofcourse the old answer by those who support this waste in government is to tell us this is the cost of diversity!

    1. Evanston is not Wilmette
      What appears to be missing in this debate is the city of Evanston total miss use of our tax dollars.

      The city’s (alleged) misuse of money and this program are different issues. Your response doesn’t dispute the housing proposal on its merits. You take exception to the way the city handles its business. “The city isn’t perfect therefore it shouldn’t take on problems” is not a valid argument.

      Has the affordable housing program to date produce any real results?

      Can you be more specific about the program you’re referring to and the funding levels it currently receives? “It takes money to (get results),” results usually being “make money” but in this case provide affordable housing. This program will raise $800,000 to $1,000,000 a year.

      Why are taxes so high in evanston… It cost about 30% more in taxes to live in Evanston that Wilmette on a similar home

      You’re comparing apples and oranges or at least villages to cities. Evanston and Wilmette are not comparable communities.

      The median house in Wilmette is 150% that of Evanston (statistics). It’s easy to have lower taxes if the value you’re taxing on is higher to begin with. The median income of an Evanston household is almost half that of a Wilmette household (statistics). Wilmette is asked to provide fewer services than Evanston does. They have so much money they plow sidewalks when it snows (you’re complaining about waste, citing Wilmette as an example?!?). If we had as few challenges as Wilmette, we would be able to run a more efficient operation. Yes, a bigger government is likely to be less efficient, but you can’t trade “efficiency” for serving the needs of the community.

      As far as taxes go, it isn’t a real estate tax you pay year after year. Lifelong Evanstonians will pay it once and, as an Evanston homeowner, you pay it while you cash in on the profit from your home. Don’t you owe some of that to the community?

      1. Evanston may not be Wilmette but its taxes are still higher!
        The city of Evanston has taxes on every thing not just real estate- they tax our phones, gas, electrical, cable TV, car stickers, beach tokens, pet licenses, high building permit fees – looking at all the fees a typical resident pays here most are the highest of all the suburbs.

        The council could care less that it keeps adding taxes on top of taxes that what this new increase is all about. Another tax on top of a tax.

        You need to go to the city budget and look at all the affordable housing funded to date – and the total number of employees involved – I have no great interest in this analysis – even at the budget hearing the city all but admitted thier programs have produced little real results.

        It is likely the affordable housing proposal will fail – I have to wonder if our council will then elminate all the rest of the useless programs and employees involved in affordable housing here!

        I did not get involved in the zoning case about the affordable housing project over in the 5th ward which the city council killed. I found it odd that the council would kill that project the zoning relief it was asking for seemed small. If no city funds were involved the council should have passed it. By the way I am not against private citizens creating affordable housing but the city of Evanston’s continued waste of my tax dollars on private citizens personal aggendas needs to stop!

        1. You’re ignoring my point
          I’m not sure I should even bother, but…

          You’re ignoring my point. Kenilworth and Winnetka have lower taxes too. Do you think these are the communities we compare to?

          Using median prices (statistics), a $350,417 Evanston house at 1.635% effective tax rate brings $5729 per house. A $506,643 Wilmette house at 1.304% effective rate brings in $6606. They start out with more money per house at a lower rate, so they don’t need to tax all the other things you cite.

          The challenges in the communities aren’t the same either. Plowing sidewalks? Let’s be serious.

          The city only gets 20% of property taxes. Let’s say you cut the city government in half (which is obviously absurd) and lowered property taxes: you’d still have higher property taxes than Wilmette! You’re making a bogus argument.

          Here’s the math: if you get $5729 per house, $1120 of that is city, cut in half is $560, meaning your taxes are now $5168, meaning the rate is 1.47%, which is higher than Wilmette’s 1.3%.


          1. What about a house in Evanston with the same value as Wilmette?
            There are many houses in Evanston with the same assessed value as Wilmette. They pay more in taxes. Yes on average homes in Wilmette are larger and more expensive than Evanston since we have many smaller homes but these home owners are clearly paying more in taxes. Our effective tax rate is higher period! that is if you add up all our taxes not just property taxes we pay more.

            Given we have many low income home owners why do you think it is OK to tax them when the leave town?
            One might think a elderly person selling thier home is going in a nursing home therefore they may need the extra funds.

            This increase is so typically of public policy in this town that is keep on adding small tax increases to support useless political aggendas.

            You need to take a good look at the city budget the property tax is only a very small precentage of the total tax the city is taking from a residents the council for years has played politics with this issue.

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