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Housing help programs debated

Evanston aldermen Monday debated how to get more bang for their affordable housing buck while coughing up more money to finish an affordable housing project that’s nearing completion.

The Evanston Community Development Association returned to the City Council to seek an extra $126,865 in taxpayer funds for the rehab of a six-unit condo building at 736-738 Dobson St.

The group received $360,000 from the city two years ago to acquire the building.

Over $100,000 of the additional costs relate to fire alarm and sprinkler system requirements that the city imposed on all condo conversion projects in 2005. Most of the rest covers replacement of rear porches and stairs to eliminate lead paint hazards.

City officials say work on the project is nearly complete and the units are already being marketed to potential buyers.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the total project cost now stands at $1.6 million. "The units are very lovely," she added, "but the basement and stairs haven’t been refurbished. It doesn’t present like a $270,000 per unit property."

"Fortunately people are going to be subsidized, so they’ll be paying $160,000 per unit. But we’ve had to pay through the nose in order to have affordable housing," Ald. Rainey said, "This has gone exactly like I thought it was going to go. It’s turned into a very expensive project."

She suggested that people looking at a $270,000 unsubsidized condo in her ward "are going to see something a lot nicer."

"If we could write down the purchase price of those market-rate condos, that’s the way to go," she argued.

The city subsidy for the project, originally calculated at $60,000 per unit, now stands at $81,144. The project has also received an affordable housing grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago and anticipates reeiving additional subsidy from the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
The aldermen voted unanimously to approve the additional subsidy request.

City staff proposed guidelines Monday for two new affordable housing programs.

Vacant property rehab

One program would allocate $600,000 for loans to developers to acquire and rehab vacant properties — most of which are single family homes in the city’s 5th Ward.

The program would seek to rehab six buildings over a 2.5 year span. City officials have estimated that there are about 50 vacant buildings in the city now.

The program would require developers to repay half the loan amount when the property is sold. The other half would become a city gift to the buyer, provided the buyer stayed in the home for 20 years.

Resale prices would be limited to $185,000 to $200,000, depending on the buyer’s income.

Developers would collect a fee of from five to 10 percent of the project cost.

Community Development Director James Wolinski said, "Building new affordable housing is anything but affordable, and the Dobson project shows that even rehabilitation of multi-unit properties is still expensive."

He said he hoped that focusing on single-family homes for rehab projects would be less costly because they don’t need expensive features like the sprinkler systems required in multi-unit buildings.

Downpayment assistance

The other program proposed would spend $340,000 over an unspecified period to provide downpayment assistance for a dozen first-time home buyers.

More than half the money would be reserved for households earning less than 80 percent of the metro area’s median income, with the rest available to those earning up to 100 percent of the median.

The loan amounts would top out at $30,000 and would be offered at a zero interest rate, with the loan principal amount forgiven over a five to ten year period if buyers stayed in the homes.

Administrative costs are estimated at $10,000 for the downpayment assistance program.

The aldermen took no action on either of the proposed new programs.

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