Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) called Monday night for creation of a new Human Services Committee subcommittee to address housing affordability issues in the city.

He suggested the proposed “Here to Stay” subcommittee would encourage the city to adopt policies designed to reduce the likelihood of residents being displaced by high housing costs.

He said the city should try to “preserve naturally occurring affordable housing” by intervening before it is sold and expand the path to homeownership for local residents by providing help with down payments and home repairs.

Peter Braithwaite.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) cautioned, “It’s really the market that drives the price of homes in Evanston, and that’s outside our control.”

He added that people come to Evanston from all over, despite the high housing costs, and there are people who leave for their own reasons. “Affordability is a top reason, but not the only one,” Braithwaite said.

“Attracting people is something we should also pay attention to,” Braithwaite said, adding that “building a strong community” needs to be part of the goal as well.

Burns said he also thinks the city should require landlords to provide notice to the city’s Health and Human Services Department before they file eviction cases in court to give the city time to intervene and try to either prevent the eviction or find new housing for the household being evicted.

Health Director Ike Ogbo said that if he city was going to provide housing for those individuals the Council would need to identify a funding source for the program. He noted that the choice the city made to house homeless residents in hotels during the pandemic “can get expensive.”

“Not only that,” Ogbo said, “but while we want to be sensitive to people’s needs, we don’t want to have people take advantage of the policy.”

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said the City Council “would need to flesh out” an emergency housing program. “Fiscally, I can’t support that policy,” Fleming said, “if we don’t have the money to do it for everyone.”

The proposals from Burns appeared on the committee’s agenda as a discussion item, so no action was taken. But it appeared they would likely be up for further consideration at a future committee meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.