Panel explores obstacles to affordable housing

Scott Mangum.

Evanston zoning requires single family homes to have parking for two cars, yet 64 percent of households in Evanston have either no car or just one.

That was one of the paradoxes that emerged as city staff briefed members of the city's Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee Wednesday night about policy issues that can complicate the effort to create more affordable housing in the city.

And if a homeowner wants to add an accessory dwelling unit to the home -- perhaps for an aging relative who doesn't drive -- then zoning would require a third garage space, Scott Mangum, the city's planning and zoning manager, said.

Sarah Flax, housing and grants manager for the city, noted efforts in other communities, like Minneapolis, to allow two or three housing units on single family housing lots and encouraged the committee to consider whether a change like that might work in Evanston.


Sarah Flax.

A study from the Chicago Metropolian Agency for Planning indicates that nearly 34 percent of land in Evanston is devoted to single-family housing while only 9.7 percent of land is used for multi-family housing. By comparison, just 36 percent of Evanston housholds live in single-family homes. 

Most new housing built here in recent years has been constructed on land that was formerly vacant or used for industrial or commercial purposes.

But with less than 8 percent of the city's land area in those three categories -- and with a desire to maintain the tax revenue provided by commercial and industrial uses -- future housing development -- affordable or otherwise -- may have to shift to sites that are already used for housing.

That brings up concerns about displacement, mentioned by speakers during public comment at the meeting, and about changes to single-family neighborhoods.


Committee members Eleanor Revelle and Ellen Cushing.

"There's going to be pushback about preserving the character of our wonderful residential neighborhoods," said Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, the only alderman on the committee.

That led the committee into a discussion of outreach efforts to gather community input on the issues from July through September this year, once the city hires a facilitator to help with that process.

After Mangum noted that the city's zoning code last went through a major revision in 1993 and the city's comprehensive general plan dates from 2000, committee members asked whether it is time to rewrite both.

Mangum said those efforts would take a lot of staff and consultant resources and that the city has "no immediate plans" to undertake such a process.

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Comments

Important to point out there is plenty of affordable housing

Whenever we see the council talking about "affordable" housing it is always important to reiterate that there is plenty of affordable housing in Evanston. We are (and have been for years) exceeding what is mandated by state law. Independent analysis by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition has show there is not an issue with gentrification. Do people want to pay less for housing? Probably. Everyone likes to pay less. But in the case of housing, the market is working fine. There is very little need or capacity for the city to involve itself in the housing market. The city is wasting its time and resources addressing a non-issue.

Important to note City has aggressive plan

I attended a meeting held by 3rd ward alderman Wynne and a couple of City employees.  They wanted to address a city parking lot at South Blvd. and Hinman that they want to sell to a developer for low income housing.  They called it affordable housing, but it's all low income.  They want to partner with Cook County Housing Authority who has 4 townhomes next to the parking lot. They said they were in early stages and hadn't made any decisions.  However, they had a developer attend the meeting and he mostly works with developing property in blighted areas.  The Cook County Housing Authority also was in attendance.  They have already decided what they want to do with this property.  They aren't really going to listen to residents.  I don't know anyone in Evanston who would want a housing development in their neighborhood.  Scattered homes and families in existing buildings is one thing all centered in one building just sounds like trouble.  Additionally, they have an aggressive plan for all of Evanston.  They said they have a need for 3000 people who need affordable housing.  Of course they first thing that comes out of the mouth is teachers and fire fighters.  Who no doubt wouldn't apply nor want to live there.  I think their numbers are designed in their favor.  Where are these 3000 people.  Don't the residents of the city own that parking lot.  How dense does Evanston need to be?  Why are they adding so much we live in Evanston because we don't want to live in Chicago, but the City government keeps developing our city to be just that!

However ...

(Responding to "HouseThe" ...) While it is true that Evanston has more affordable housing than the 10 percent of housing units that the state regulations attempt to achieve, we also have many residents who, despite that, are paying more for housing than the 30 percent of income that the federal government sets as a target.

So you can pick your data point to claim their either is or isn't a shortage of affordable housing here.

Curbed published a good backgrounder on the situation nationally yesterday: "The affordable housing crisis, explained."

-- Bill