How can the city get the most affordable housing?


Members of a City Council subcommittee Wednesday night suggested at their first meeting that creating subsidized housing units in new downtown high-rises isn’t the best way to maximize the amount of affordable housing in Evanston.

Kent Swanson of Riverside Investment & Development said, “It’s an expensive solution to be producing units at $300,000 a copy.”

Swanson suggested that with building code changes it would be possible to create much lower-cost housing units — most likely in low-rise buildings outside downtown.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the same effect could also be achieved by subsidizing rental units in existing, relatively low-cost buildings.

Jolene Saul.

The push for including on-site subsidized units in new construction projects has been driven by at least two factors — a desire to increase economic diversity in the new projects and concerns about delays in producing the affordable units if the city has to get fee-in-lieu funds from one developer and then find another developer to produce the affordable units.

Jolene Saul, of Brinshore Development, said that while she’d love to get the cost of affordable units down, “We have to make sure that housing –wherever we put it — is not perpetuating segregation and that it’s accessible to transportation and amenities.”

Stacie Young.

But Stacie Young, of Community Investment Corporation, said there are existing rental units in transit-oriented-development areas that could be subsidized to become affordable units. “We could create affordable housing for a lot less cost for more people.”

Eleanor Revelle.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said she was struggling to figure out what would be the “clear and convincing” evidence of financial infeasibility, called for in the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance, that would justify modifying the ordinance’s requirements for a particular project.

Those requirements now call for a $100,000 fee-in-lieu contribution from the developer — or an on-site affordable unit — for every 10 housing units included in the project.

Swanson said it all depends on bank financing. “If you don’t have a project that a bank will lend you money on, it’s not going to get built,” he said.

But it’s a process, Swanson added, and “sometimes the bank believes more of what you say; sometimes less.”

At the suggestion of the committee chair, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, and other members, the committee asked city staff to schedule workshop-style presentations on development financing and other issues, starting with the committee’s next meeting on Feb. 7.

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