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Housing referendum called cynical move

Activist Sue Carlson says the City Council’s decision to ask voters to raise the real estate transfer tax to fund affordable housing programs is a cynical move by aldermen who don’t really support affordable housing.

Activist Sue Carlson says the City Council’s decision to ask voters to raise the real estate transfer tax to fund affordable housing programs is a cynical move by aldermen who don’t really support affordable housing.

“The council has talked about how folks have been leaving Evanston because of high taxes,” Ms. Carlson said, “yet they sincerely expect that advocates of affordable housing are going to be able to persuade people to increase the transfer tax?”

“They can’t figure out how to pass an inclusionary housing program that’s been in front of them for two years,” she added, “but they expect affordable housing advocates to rouse more than 50 percent of the voters to raise their own taxes.”

She said the people most likely to vote in the fall election are older home owners who may be most focused on the impact of a transfer tax increase on their ability fund their retirement or provide an estate for their children.

“I’m not saying we won’t be trying to put some sort of plan together to get out the vote on this,” she added, “but it boggles the mind that folks who’ve claimed to be affordable housing advocates have put this out there as a tax increase.”

Ms. Carlson of 2679 Stewart Ave. is a leader of the group Evanston’s Affordable Housing Future, which has pushed for measures that would require developers of new housing projects in the community to provide affordable housing, either in their developments or at other locations.

Opponents of those proposals have argued that they amount to a tax on moderate-income buyers of new condos, because the developers would have to pass the cost of the affordable units onto purchasers of other units in their developments.

But Ms. Carlson says it wouldn’t have to work that way if the city provided sufficient density or other incentives to developers to cover the cost of the affordable units. “But they’ve refused to provide any givebacks to the developers,” she said.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who proposed the referendum, said she believes constructing affordable housing in new developments is too costly and that there is a considerable supply of existing housing units in the city priced at $300,000 or less.

“With a little help, for people with incomes at 80 percent of the median, we could make lots of that housing affordable,” she says.

Ald. Rainey, whose ward includes a significant portion of the city’s more affordable housing stock, said details of the program to be funded by the real estate transfer tax increase still need to be worked out.

Evanston’s existing transfer tax, at $5 per $1,000 of a property’s selling price, is among the highest in the area. The referendum would raise that to $6 per $1,000.

Voters in Lake Forest this spring approved a $4 per $1,000 transfer tax intended to fund city infrastructure projects, after rejecting a $5 per $1,000 tax for the same purposes a year earlier.

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