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Mayor: No more housing cost overruns

Evanston housing group leaders complained Thursday they’ve been frozen out of the city’s $18 million federal rehab grant. But Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said the groups lacked the track record to do the work.

Evanston housing group leaders complained Thursday they’ve been frozen out of the city’s $18 million federal rehab grant. But Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said the groups lacked the track record to do the work.

A resident asks a question at the town hall meeting.

At a town hall meeting at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, Tisdahl, alluding to cost overruns on previous projects run by the local groups, said the federal government provided the big new grant on the condition that "we would spend it wisely and well."

"We can’t waste the money. We can’t be going back and asking for more on the same project," she added.

And Sarah Flax of the city’s planning staff said the local groups, which have done small-scale projects with the city in the past, lacked the experience the federal government required to qualify for the grant.

She said applicants were required to have completed 75 housing units within the past two years in each of several categories to qualify, and that’s why the city chose to partner with Brinshore Development of Northbrook, which has extensive experience with government-funded housing projects, to make the application.

But the mayor had more encouraging news for local contractors in the audience of about 50 people who attended the meeting, saying that while the terms of the grant require that 25 percent of the work on the project go to minority or woman-owned or Evanston-based businesses, "that doesn’t mean it’s all we’ll do."

She encouraged the contractors to frequently check a section of the city’s website that will list contracting opportunities on the project. She said contractors could also sign up on the website to be notified by e-mail when new opportunities are posted.

Flax said she hopes that the first opportunities for work will be made available within 60 days — but said the timing depends on progress by Brinshore in acquiring foreclosed properties.

She said the acquisition process may turn out to be difficult.

There are about 200 foreclosed or bank-owned properties in the two census tracts eligible for the program, she said. And some of those properties include multiple units. The grant is designed to rehab 100 units.

"But the banks are under no obligation to sell to us just because we want to buy," Flax said, adding that the grant terms require that the city get the properties for less than their current appraised value.

"We have to negotiate the best price to be able to afford to do the rehab needed," she said.

Brinshore, as the project developer, she said, is entitled under the grant to earn a 12 percent developer’s fee for its services. That would total a little over $2 million.

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