“All the taxpayers in Evanston should help with affordable housing,” former township assessor Bonnie Wilson told a group of about 50 people who turned out for an inclusionary housing workshop at the Civic Center Monday night.

Wilson, summing up the thoughts of the half dozen people at her workshop table, said, “What if we had a separate tax levy — not very much — maybe $5 on everybody’s tax bill.”

Wilson suggested the program could provide vouchers to low income residents, like the federal housing choice voucher program, that could be used at any rental property in the city.

Inclusionary housing “is something the whole city should think about,” Wlson said. “It shouldn’t come from just developers or a few people. All citizens should help.”

A $5 annual tax on each of the city’s roughly 33,000 housing units would generate about $165,000 a year that might be used for housing subsidies.

Monday’s workshop was requested by aldermen who sought more community feedback on a staff-developed plan to expand the city’s existing inclusionary housing ordinance from covering just condominium developments with 25 or more units to any project — rental or for sale — with 10 or more units.

The staff proposal would also sharply increase the affordable housing payments required of developers and grant density and other zoning code bonuses to partially offset those costs.

Cheryl Wollin.

Former 1st Ward alderman Cheryl Wollin said workshop participants at her table believed owners of detached single family homes — who total about half the city’s residents — should have to pay for affordable housing — that the cost shouldn’t be limited to bjyers of new condos and developers of new rental housing.

She said the easiest way to do that would be to designate a portion of the city’s real estate transfer tax revenue to be used for affordable housing.

Another alternative, she suggested, would be to impose a tax on home renovation projects costing more than $100,000.

Twice in the past decade Evanston voters have rejected referendums that proposed increasing what’s now a 0.5 percent city tax on property transfers.

In 2006 a proposal to raise the tax to pay for affordable housing programs was rejected by a 52 to 48 percent margin. In 2008 a similar increase proposed to help cover increased payments to the police and fire pension funds was rejected by a 58 to 42 percent vote.

Other speakers at the meeting said people at their tables were generally supportive of the proposed inclusionary housing ordinance amendments, but they offered suggestions for modifications.

For example, Adrian Willoughby, director of the non-profit Reba Place Development Corp., said people at his table wanted affordable units to be included at the site of new market-rate developments. Otherwise, he suggested, affordable units wouldn’t be spread throughout the city.

He also suggested the inclusionary ordinance would pose a threat to existing small landlords — creating more competition for their moderately-priced units — and that something should be done to help them.

From a show of hands, it appeared only one person who identified himself as a developer attended the meeting along with one other person involved in financing development projects. At least six of the city’s aldermen attended the session.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Unaffordable Housing

    Is the Goal of of the City Council to make more housing in Evanston Unaffordable. The idea of a tax levy on property owners for an affordable housing fund  would  bring to 16 the number of individual levies on my bill. The amount of  the levies usually increase (as most know) every year. No doubt in my mind that this one would yearly. I vote NO.

  2. Council does their part to keep housing down

    I guess this as so many efforts by the Council to keep out new buildings and lower sales so more existing units can be torn down or converted to "afford able housing"—or just abandoned.

  3. Bad idea Bonnie

    Evanston does NOT need another taxing body or separate tax levy. We already have plenty of those. Just look at your tax bill. All taxpayers and renters are already contributing to "inclusionary" housing by paying our property taxes and monthly rent. (Renters "pay" taxes indirectly since part of their rent is ultimately used by the property owner to make the property tax payment) It's up to City Council to prioritize how to spend our tax dollars.

    As others have commented, Evanston already exceeds the requirements for affordable housing. And in comparison to surrounding communities, we have more affordable housing. Another measure to use is to look at the percentage of students at ETHS who are eligible for free and subsidized lunches. At ETHS 41% of students are eligible, Niles North is 39%, Niles West is 36%, Glenbrook South is 28%, Glenbrook North is 17%, New Trier is 4% and Deerfield is 3%. 

    If Bonnie wants to pay extra money for inclusionary housing let her and others contribute VOLUNTARILY for this effort. Please don't increase my taxes. My wages haven't increased in over 5 years, and I'm getting squeezed from all sides.

    1. Government or charity?

      You will note for all that Warren Buffet talks about how he is taxed so little, he does not make "voluntary" contributions to the IRS.

      He also talks about the rich "giving" but as far as I know neither he, Bill Gates or the others who make headlines about their giving, make "voluntary" contributions to the IRS or their State taxing body.

      No, they give to charities they believe in and know will actually accomplish something and not siphon off money for "pet projects", "overhead" and so many other things that never meet the supposed purpose the government claims the taxes go to.

      I can't count the number of times "liberals" say they support higher taxes—but then don't give to charity since "the government takes [or should] take care of all that." This sounds like the logic the Council uses.

      Judaism requires 10% for charity, Christianity says the 10% is the start of the level for charity. These and other organizations are where the real work is really being done. [If their "overhead" is not reasonable, people should find another church/synagogue/organization], not lobby for more taxes.

  4. Broken Record = We have Plenty of Affordable Housing
    I know this is starting to sound like a broken record, but it needs to be said: The State of Illinois has legislation under the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act that requires every municipality in the state to have affordable housing supply. Evanston IS IN COMPLIANCE with the act, meaning we already have an adequate supply of affordable housing.

    Because housing markets are regional, it is the state’s role to address the issue–not individual cities operating outside of the legislation.

    The city should leave well enough alone unless it looks like we will be out of compliance–which is unlikely.

  5. Leave it to the council and

    Leave it to the council and other city employees to suggest another tax.  I pay a property tax on a parking space in a high-rise building and, for 14 years there, Starbucks has been allowed illegal parking in the alley, which  is supposed to be my access, and on the street blocking the alley.  Our alderman has done nothing I know of to address the problem(s), and city police advise calling 3-1-1.  You know how that works.  We need someone to talk to at city hall about reducing and refunding portions of our property tax on property we can't access.  What would suddenly enable the city to manage another issue of this complexity?  Maybe they could hire someone for several hundred thousand dollars to make a plan for housing. 

  6. Looking for Representatives to lower my tax bill!
    Bonnie… BAD idea! I have owned properties in Evanston since 1988… I am one of the “small landlords” who is threatened by things like this – if it’s not one expensive repair to a building or a unit, it’s additional fees like the “license” fee we all pay and pass down to the lessee’s. The property taxes on one parcel I purchased in 1996 has increased +350% in less than 20 years. Beginning now, please join me to only vote for Representatives who will find ways to save property taxpayers money.

    Respectfully submitted, Brian G. Becharas

    1. I agree with you Brian.  Our

      I agree with you Brian.  Our taxes have increased enormously too.

      Question to Bonnie: How can the homeowners in Evanston afford even higher taxes?  And for affordable housing??  Are you kidding?

      I vote NO to this.

    2. Oops
      Sorry everybody, there was a small error in my math… the property taxes for the referenced property has gone up (merely) 252% in 19 years.

  7. Real estate taxes

    The logical solution to decrease the cost of housing is to decrease the absurd amount of r.e. taxes extracted from the citizens.  New developments must already pay absurd levels of r.e. taxes and that excessive expense is a direct cause of ever escalating rental rates.

    The illogical solution is to raise taxes even higher or impose more mandates that do nothing but increase the overall cost of housing.   

    Unfortunately, much easier to jerk the knee of good intentions.

      1. It’s a Trojan Horse

        The levy starts at $5 per year and only goes one way – UP ! Similar to our utility bills, create a separate box where people can VOLUNTARILY decide if they want to contribute to this initiative. Property taxes have skyrocketed in the last 10 years, but incomes have stagnated. EVERY government body wants more money. Evanston just created a separate taxing body for the library and part of the logic was that it's not much money. Illinois has the highest or one highest number of taxing bodies in our country and EVERY one of them wants more money. This is one of the worst ideas I've seen in my 20+ years living in Evanston.

        1. Property Tax and Affordable Housing
          For a rental property [say apartment] does the lower rental rate for the unit get reflected in the assessed value of that/those units or all the units in the building thus lowering the property tax of the owner of the building.

          For a house/condo that is built/purchased as Affordable housing, does the Assessor value it as he would any other house in the area or comparable structure or the sale value of the home or with a special exemption ? If a lower sale price and/or assessed valuation, does that then carry over to the assessed valuation [I assume lower] of other houses in the area ?

          For both cases assume the renter/buyer is a fireman or policeman and not a ‘lower income’ person.

      2. Lattes ?
        Who in the world or at least Evanston, can afford a Latte ?
        With the taxes and other costs in Evanston a senior coffee at B-K becomes a luxury.

      3. only 5 bucks? again?

        I'm sick of this continually repeated justification of "it's only a lousy 5 bucks"  Taxpayers are nickled and dimed to the point of absurdity.  And not just r.e. taxes, buy food, use a phone, gas, cable, pets, utilities, anything and everything, on and on, etc. etc. etc.  A dime here, a dollar there, hide it here, obscure it there, justify it all by "it's a lousy 5 bucks"  

        The never ending "it's a lousy 5 bucks" is a completely irresponsible and unjustified response to any tax reflecting a simplicity of thought and lack of any consideration.  Time for that it's no big deal, it's just a couple of lattes b.s. to get called on the carpet.  

        1. Amen, what problem and guess where?

          Amen.  Sure, just another $5 from the overburdened taxpayers who have had their pockets picked clean already.  Enough!

          This is a "solution" in search of a problem.  As others have noted, Evanston's affordable housing numbers already meet state established standards and exceed the affordable housing offered by nearby suburbs.  ETHS already has 40 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch given their family income so it appears that a significant number of low-income individuals and families already call Evanston home.    

          So what is the justification for this "solution"?  Who exactly is pushing this idea and why is the City Council apparently moving blindly ahead with it?  Why make it more expensive for current residents to live here?  Why is making Evanston less affordable for middle income individuals and families seen as a good solution to any problem?  Should Evanston residents be only the wealthy and those considered low income?  

          And if more affordable housing is built or otherwise established, should we all guess where it will be built?  Certainly not in the neighborhoods of the "do gooders" who are apparently pushing this "solution." 

          Instead, low-income housing will be increased over there (west side) and down there (south side).  Are these the areas of town that need/should have more low-income housing?  But at least the "do gooders" can boast about how much they truly love the diversity of Evanston.

    1. Who is really wanting/needing “Affordable Housing” ?
      The phrase is tossed about but who is it for ?
      Has a study been done of how many and percent of teachers, firemen, policemen, etc. say they want and would move to Evanston if “affordable” housing was available and what are the rent/buy price points that would be necessary for that ? Are those price points even feasible with any tax/subsidy/developer penalty or is all the talk just to get votes and never accomplish anything ?
      How much is for low income people and again are the price points even reasonable—i.e. taxes and such would be so high that those levels would be unreasonable. Even if such housing was made possible, do they have the income for up-keep and all the other expenses that occur in a town like Evanston ?
      How does Wilmette, Kenilworth or any of the other north shore handle both groups low income and city workers ?
      The fact is a lot of people would like to live in a lot of places. Many even upper middle class people would like to live in Kenilworth, but know even if they could purchase, they could not afford everything. In the 70’s a lot of young professionals [MBAs, college teachers, lawyers] could scrape up enough to buy in Wilmette and counted on their income to grow and house/property to grow [the latter is not that way now]. They also could not have furniture, AC or many things until their income grew and they paid off college debts. As we have seen in 2008—all those dreams and over-extension can get you in real trouble. This is 2014 not 1973 and most realize that things [salary and housing values] don’t always go up. Jobs don’t last forever, technology and consumer needs change, you may be transferred and have to sell fast and loose [a lot of] money on the sale.
      Sad but the truth can hurt.

  8. “Might”
    In addition to virtually all of excellent comments in this section, I’d like to call attention to use of “might” in the proposal which ends: “…might be used for housing subsidies.” That certainly caught my eye.

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