Housing groups become pro-development force

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The proposed Albion Residential development in downtown Evanston won a favorable recommendation from a city staff committee Wednesday and also picked up qualified support from advocates for affordable housing.

While a few residents seeking to preserve a traditional low-rise look downtown spoke against the planned 16-story, 287-unit development, two affordable housing advocates generally supported it.

Sue Loellbach, manager of advocacy for Connections for the Homeless, said of the 1450 Sherman Ave. plans, “I think this looks like a beautiful place to live.”

But Loellback and Elizabeth Meadows, of Interfaith Action of Evanston, did object to terms of the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance, which permit developers to pay $100,000 for every 10 units in a project into the city’s affordable housing fund in lieu of providing the same number of affordable units on site.

Elizabeth Meadows.

“If this is approved, I urge you to create affordable units as part of the project, rather than using the buyout,” Meadows said.

Meadows said no affordable housing has been built since the revised inclusionary housing ordinance went into effect last year.

While no units have been completed under the revised inclusionary housing ordinance rules, four units are under construction in a development at 824 Noyes St., the City Council has approved funding for two more units at a site yet-to-be determined, five units are included in a proposal under review for 130 Chicago Ave.

The city has also approved a development at 831 Emerson St. that will contribute $2.4 million to the affordable housing fund.

The bind for developers is that providing an on-site affordable unit typically carries a price tag in the neighborhood of $250,000 — far more than the $100,000 in-lieu fee.

In the past, development opponents have used the high price of market-rate units as an argument against new construction in the city. But with affordable housing backers now seeing the new construction as the primary funding source for the new affordable units they want, that argument appears to be weakening.

A rendering of the proposed development looking northeast with the Lake Street railroad viaducts in the foreground.

In response to the affordable housing advocates’ concerns, Albion Vice President Andrew Yule said that his development will fully comply with the inclusionary housing ordinance — which would require a $2.9 million dollar contribution to the affordable housing fund.

Yule said he’s also willing to include two units in the building that would be affordable to residents at 60 percent of area median income. He said he plans to work with the YWCA in Evanston, to do a yearly fundraiser for the organization and may work with that agency, which provides housing for domestic violence victims, to manage the affordable units in the Albion development.

Review of the Albion plans now moves to the city’s Plan Commission, with a hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. next Wednesday, Aug. 9, in the City Council chambers.

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