Inclusionary housing plan introduced

Evanston aldermen Monday introduced an inclusionary housing ordinance at the full City Council meeting, but sent it back to committee for further debate.

In discussions at the Planning and Development Committee earlier in the evening, it appeared that six aldermen were inclined to vote for the ordinance, while three voiced opposition to it, at least in its present form.

The aldermen voted to limit the scope of the ordinance to new owner-occupied multi-family housing developments of 25 units or more.

They voted to eliminate condo conversions and new rental developments from the ordinance, after the city’s legal staff revised its recommendation and said the narrower ordinance would not be defective on constitutional equal protection grounds.

The current draft of the ordinance would require developers to set aside 10 percent of the units in planned developments with 25 or more units for people earning less than the median income in the Chicago metro area.

Half of the 10 percent requirement could be met by payment into an affordable housing fund, but the other half would have to be met on-site.

The aldermen briefly discussed but took no action on a proposal from City Manager Julia Carroll that, instead of requiring affordable units on site, the city increase the level of payments that it has already been seeking from developers as contributions to the city’s affordable housing program.

Ms. Carroll said developers have agreed to pay $874,000 under that program, but admitted that the city has only collected $25,000 of that amount so far, because most of the affected projects have not yet been completed.

The inclusionary housing proposal has been under discussion for over a year at the council and at least two years before that by the Housing Commission.

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said the city under its current program gets only 10 percent of what it could capture for affordable housing if the ordinance were in place. He urged immediate adoption of the ordinance.

He also argued that at least some of the affordable units need to be built on the site of the new developments, which would not be required under the manager’s plan.

Alderman Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward, urged adoption of the ordinance “so that we have a community that mixes income levels in the same building.” She cited efforts in other communities to achieve the same goals.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “A lot of communities that talk about all that stuff don’t actually produce any of it.”

She argued that adopting the inclusionary housing plan now would discourage people from voting for the November referendum that would increase the real estate transfer tax 20 percent to fund affordable housing programs.

She also said the ordinance doesn’t provide sufficient support for the people it proposes to help. “You can’t take a family earning $30,000 and put them in a building where everybody else is making $200,000 and expect them to keep up without making other arrangements,” Ald. Rainey said.

She argued that condo maintenance fees and higher real estate taxes would break the budget of anyone the city tried to help under the ordinance as proposed.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, suggested amending the ordinance to meet Ald. Rainey’s objections. “Let’s fix it and advance it,” he said.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said “I don’t think this is finished enough so I can support it.”

She said that she’s no fan of developers, but is concerned that many people from the development community have said the ordinance would bring new construction to a halt.

“The places where this has worked the toolbox [of incentives for developers] has been open,” she said. “But I’m going to keep it shut, at least on Chicago Avenue in my ward. We don’t have the density to give away.”

She also noted that development is already slowing down. “Look at the Plan Commission agenda for the next six months,” she said, “It’s blank.”

She added that just in her ward two or three developments are on hold because of rising construction costs. “I’m not necessarily unhappy about that,” she said, “But we’re hitching ourselves to an economic engine that is really slowing down.”

“I think we have to have inclusionary housing, but I don’t necessarily think that this ordinance will actually produce any of it, given the economic market,” Ald. Wynne said.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said the city is dependent on building permit fees for revenue and the slowing housing market means decreased revenue on that front that will increase pressure to raise other taxes to fund existing programs.

“I don’t want to drive more people out of town than we manage to get in by passing this policy,” she said.

She urged waiting until after the referendum vote to act on the inclusionary housing ordinance.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, urged passage of the ordinance. “If we’re not happy with it, then let’s tweak it, but it’s important that we pass it.”

He said the city already has a “toolbox” for developers — “we call it a planned development ordinance.”

“I don’t want to stop growing,” Ald. Bernstein said, “but I sense we’re still vibrant; we’ve still got people who want to come in and develop here.”

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “I can’t see why we can’t do both” the referendum and the inclusionary housing ordinance. “In Evanston we have to not just talk the talk but walk the walk in terms of the diversity of the community,” she said.

Alderman Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, said that ever since the council rejected the Darrow Corners development earlier this year “the council as a whole has been criticized as not committed to affordable housing. We need to not just give lip service to it. I think we need to move on the ordinance. Just pass it. It’s been sitting around for too long.”

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