Here’s a recap of our live coverage of this evening’s Evanston City Council special meeting focused largely on issues related to affordable housing.

A packet with information on tonight’s agenda items is available online.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

Meeting called to order at 5:32 p.m.

Mayor Steve Hagerty says COVID-19 numbers have gone down — with restrictions — some of which are now being lifted. Discusses current pandemic statistics.

Mayor says vaccinations are starting to move to Phase 1b, says the city doesn’t control how many vaccine doses the city gets, and typically has relatively little advance notice of the additional doses arriving. Says residents will be called for vaccination scheduling as doses become available.

Notes passing of jazz pianist Junior Nance of Evanston.

And death of Marta Torres who was shot at the IHOP on Jan. 9. Torres was on the staff at Washington Elementary School.

And holds moment of silence for the 104 Evanstonians who’ve died from COVID-19, that in conjunction with similar ceremonies being held around the country at this hour.

Public Comment

50 speakers signed up. It’s now 5:50 p.m. Each speaker will get 55 seconds.

Numerous speakers speak in favor of building a skate park in Evanston.

Nick Korzienowski, 3rd Ward aldermanic candidate, says neighbors are concerned about possible rezoning of parking lot 1 for affordable housing.

Some neighbors of the parking lot also object to rezoning that would increase height and density.

A representative from Interfaith Action speaks in favor of developing a 24/7 homeless shelter.

Public comment ends at 7:16 p.m.

SP1 – Skate Park Discussion
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, says she’s concerned about the temporary park concept. Suggests going for “the real skate park,” not a temporary one. Have to bond for a permanent one, that might cost $750K, but that’s OK. Also thinks there’s an opportunity for private fundraising. Fears a temporary park would become the permanent one.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says she’s enthusiastic about having a skate park — need a place for the skateboarders to go. Suggests asking the community to help fund the project.

City Manager Erika Storlie says city has been discussing a skate park for as much as a decade. Says could do a temporary one immediately and then build a permanent one.

Parks Director Lawrence Hemingway says temporary park is being considered because there’s such an immediate need, and permanent one will have a longer lead time.

Suggests three possible temporary locations — a portion of the Civic Center parking lot, city parking lot #5 at Green Bay and Ashland, city parking lot #1 on South Boulevard east of Chicago Avenue. Says a temporary park could cost as little as $30K, but would probably have only a five-year life span.

Says permanent park would cost $350K to $750K. Would have about a 20 year life cycle. Mentions several possible park locations.

Says could install a temporary park within the next three to six months. A permanent park would take 18 to 24 months to develop and would go through the usual purchasing process.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says idea is long overdue. Supports having a temporary facility, but a permanent one as well. Says seems like an excellent opportunity for a partnership with the Ridgeville Park District. Says should be accessible — shouldn’t have to drive to it.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, says her younger brother was a skateboarder, says she favors having both a temporary and a permanent park. Need more outdoor activities for teens. Should be centrally located to provide equal access.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, says given current financial situation it’s crazy to be talking about this, when we’re talking about selling assets to raise funds. Asks why didn’t look at lakefront.

Hemingway says lakefront is passive space, so opted to stay away from those parks.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, says would like to know whether the temporary facility would satisfy the needs, but shares Suffredin’s concerns about non-essential permanent spending. Says private partnership for funding would be excellent. Doesn’t want Twiggs Park site used — says it’s fully utilized by businesses in the area.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, says frustrated that its now nearly 8 p.m. and haven’t started talking about affordable housing that was supposed to be the main topic of the meeting. Suggests working with Ridgeville Park District, says they have a lot of park land available.

City manager says now have direction to have community meetings with skateboard community and discussion with Ridgeville about possible location.

SP2 – Affordable housing and homelessness update
Storlie praises staff for getting grant money and doing other hard work on the issue.

Community Development Director Johanna Nyden makes a presentation.

Related stories:

Sarah Flax, housing and grants administrator, says still short on capacity to house those in need — short about 50 beds, though have found housing for 177 and have temporary housing for roughly another 100. Work was funded through a variety of federal programs and private fundraising. Says the typical annual funding for homeless is only about 5% of what’s been spent this year.

Says there’s an ongoing need for a 24/7 shelter to temporarily house between 70 and 100 people. Have to give people own space for health and other concerns. Says current — non-permanent — solution is costing about $2.7 million. Need to come up with funding solutions to continue.

Another city staff member says many more people may become homeless when the eviction moratoriums end — but very hard to forecast. Minority households more likely to be at risk and renters are more likely to be at risk than homeowners.

Average rents are dropping (modestly).

Median home sale price is up 14% for the year to $450K, and a 10% increase is anticipated for this year.

Forecasts increased income inequality and greater affordability issues.

Have seen 77 affordable units in new market rate developments since 2003 as a result of the city’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, and revisions to it, with 32 of those units added in 2020.

Accessory Dwelling Units — three revisions to rules over past three years that have made them more available.

Nyden says that just as the city worked with NSP2 funding of $18.5 million to rehab vacant housing units after the housing market crash, the city hopes to receive funding under hoped-for federal assistance programs in the wake of the pandemic.

Fiske praises the report. Says should be turned into a report on the city website.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, says its a really comprehensive report. Says there’ll never be enough affordable housing to remedy the needs. Says for people of color and families in the low income bracket it will take a mind shift to stay in Evanston — means encouraging home ownership. Renting is not the solution, does nothing to build wealth, he says. Finding an affordable condo unit is key for younger families.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, says what the community has been able to do during the pandemic to keep people housed is amazing. Asks how might proceed to actually get the 24/7 shelter?

Flax says there are discussions. But in 2009 the federal government took away funding for shelters. Says there is a Section 108 loan program that could provide a feasible way to provide at least some of the funding needed for it.

Revelle says city needs additional strategies to provide more solutions for affordable housing. Asks whether can reconvene the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee.

Nyden says need to coordinate that with transportation and open space planning.

Wynne asks about adding more permanent supportive housing. Praises the staff effort on the report.

Wilson agrees that it’s an excellent report. Says will have to make some changes in thinking to make progress. Praises the non-profits that have partnered with the city. Says shouldn’t overlook need for more good jobs — which lets people better afford housing. Suggests need for more legal resources for people to deal with the anticipated eviction crisis.

Rainey asks whether staff knows how many people are permanently unemployed and will need to be assisted with housing forever?

Flax says doesn’t have that information now but can try to get more information about it. Says unpaid rent nationwide may be $70 billion or more — and available aid is insufficient to cover that. Says housing support programs have generally been declining since 1980 — hasn’t been a sufficient commitment to fund housing needs. Says there may be some improvements in that.

Rainey says the community has to start accepting affordable housing — and there was a lot of NOT accepting it during public comment tonight.

Council votes to accept the report and place it on file.

SP3 – Sale of city-owned property at 1805 Church St.

Mount Pisgah Ministry and Housing Opportunity Development Corporation to present their interest in the project.

Paul Zalmezak, economic development manager, says will be further discussion at the first meeting in February. (Delay needed for publication of public notices.)

Pastor Clifford Wilson from Mount Pisgah says its the church’s mission to build the project and “God has brought us together” to work with HODC.

Richard Koenig of HODC says looking at doing a mixed used development with housing, retail, and ministry components.

Rue Simmons says she offers her enthusiastic support for the project. Will provide more affordable housing and other benefits.

Wilson calls it a very exciting and appropriate opportunity for the location.

Braithwaite says would like to see affordable condos in the project — drive opportunities for home ownership — get subsidies for that — particularly in that area of town.

Rainey says she’s worked with Koenig several times, has several projects in her ward, is a really devoted housing scholar, developer, doer, and housing manager. “Thank you for being here,” she says.

Storlie says will seek council approval for negotiating sale at Feb. 8 meeting. Then will be the usual planned development review process.

No vote taken.

SP4 – RFP for redevelopment of city-owned property at 506 South Boulevard

Wynne says she’s unequivocally opposed to having the lot changed to R6 zoning. Says the 900 block of Hinman is the only block in her ward that’s R6. Says Council’s not approving a rezoning tonight. Only seeking proposal from developers. Says wants three-bedroom family units and because city owns the property city can dictate the terms.

Zalmezak says community has asked the city to add more affordable housing units. Haven’t drafted the request for proposals yet. Discussion started two years ago. And there’s not a proposal for it yet. Heard tonight that R6 is not going to happen. R4 gets us four units, which already has four units on the site. That would be a net gain of eight units. Wouldn’t recommend development at that level. R5 could get as many as 48 units in a four story building. If going to achieve affordable housing goals, should do more than what’s allowed under existing zoning.

Says not looking to make a 100% affordable development — but a mixed income development that’s economically viable. Says city doesn’t have $40 million to build the development itself.

Fleming says it’s disappointing to hear so much opposition to the proposal. Says shouldn’t rule out R6, though not necessarily saying should do that. (Notes that 16-story building was approved at 1900 Sherman Ave. recently.)

Wilson says R6 doesn’t seem to be in scale with the location. Says its a good opportunity for family housing and accessible housing. Says since the city owns the property it has more leverage to meet a need that’s not beeing met currently.

Suffredin asks why take R6 off the table when this is a city asset, not a ward asset.

Zalmezak says R6 would permit up to eight stories. But he wouldn’t recommend any more than six stories.

Wynne says maximum building height is 85 and there’s a development allowance that could make it a 125 foot building. Says lets put out an RFP that’s acceptable to the community and will achieve community goals. Want the project to fit into the context of the community.

Suffredin if really about affordable housing shouldn’t limit what willing to consider. Limiting on the front end is bad governance.

Wynne says doesn’t want to waste community time on something that won’t fit into the community. Otherwise will end up using a lot of staff time on proposals that aren’t realistic.

Storlie says have enough information to draft the RFP, says will return to the City Council in February to review it before it’s issued.

Council approves moving forward to prepare the RFP on a 9-0 vote.

Call of the Wards

Suffredin and Revelle having joint ward meeting on Jan. 28.

Fleming … 9th Ward meeting tomorrow at 7 p.m.

Wynne … town hall meeting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 28.

Mayor says will have coronavirus Q&A Friday at noon online.

Meeting adjourned at 9:53 p.m.

Next City Council meeting next Monday.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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