City may beg Habitat to return

Evanston aldermen appeared to agree tonight that the city should do whatever it takes to bring Habitat for Humanity back to town to help develop subsidized housing in the city.
"I believe we should beg them to come back here," Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said as the aldermen reviewed a housing task force report.
"It was politics that drove Habitat away," Rainey said, "and I think they're just exactly what we need."
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, "Part of the job of mayor seems to involve a lot of begging, so I'd be happy to be involved in it."
Andrew McGonigle, a task force member and an employee in Northwestern University's facilities management department, said Habitat, which once operated in Evanston, now has its nearest projects in Waukegan.
McGonigle said NU students in "Greeks for Habitat" have spent the last two years going to build low-cost housing there.
McGonigle said the task force met with the student group, and that they are interested in doing work in Evanston.
McGonigle also suggested that the business school at Northwestern could help the city's non-profit community housing development organizations develop better business models for their operations.
The city has five small housing groups which have struggled to complete their projects as the housing market deteriorated in recent years.
The task force report emphasizes shifting the city's housing efforts, largely funded by federal grants, to focus on rental housing for the next few years, rather than the emphasis on construction of for-sale units that drove the strategy in recent years.
Although the task force report voiced fears that speculators might sweep in and snap up distressed properties in town, task force Chair Susan Munro conceded, when asked by Tisdahl, that it's "hard to document" any signs of such activity so far.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the task force report is "an excellent starting point" for the City Council's goal setting process on housing policy and that he plans to present a work plan on the topic to the council after the new city budget is adopted in February.



Affordable housing is a cruel joke on taxpayers

Once again those of us who pay crazy property tax bills in Evanston have to listen to more whining about affordable housing schemes. I have nothing bad to say about Habitat for Humanity as a charity. Charity is good. But the city of Evanston spends money on all kinds of unnecessary things including this pipe dream of coordinating affordable housing strategies. Let speculators come in and buy properties that are not performing. So what? Are you against someone making money from improving a house or apartment building? It is the normal ebb and flow of life in a capitalist society. The best thing the city can do is enforce property standards and support the criminal justice system to put away thugs, robbers, drug dealers and gangbangers which terrorize the underperforming neighborhoods. This means supporting judges for election to be strict on criminals while on protecting victims. And supporting the police in their profession. That's how you turn around a foreclosure problem.
If Evanston gets too expensive to buy into then people can rent. There is no shame in being a rernter. If the average rent is not affordable for a particular person or family they can work harder to make more money to cover the additional expense, or move to a more affordable area. Where is is written in stone that Evanston must spend taxpayer money to prevent people with less income from moving to towns with more affordable housing? It's basic common sense.

A few years ago when the city council considered forcing landlords of all size unit buildings to accept Section 8 vouchers the small land lords went crazy in trying to protect their homes and investments from government mandates. The federal government representative who handles section 8 for northern Illinois testified before the city council that Evanston already had the vast majority of aid receipients and they didn't think that was a healthy for our area. i.e. we already have subsidies making Evanston more affordable for the poor. Another example are the many clusters of Cook County owned little brown townhouse clusters which you see in all areas of Evanston. More affordable housing paid for by the government already in existence. In fact, I always think it's like a sick irony that while the county assessor has double my taxes in the past five years I look at my neighborhood's edition of the these Cook County townhouses. In the summer these units have a professional crew show up and cut their grass, while I push a mower. In the winter a professional crew plows and shovels for them while I lift my own shovel. The cars in the parking lots of these Cook County owned townhouses are not bad at all many newer and nicer than my two old cars.

Really, the city coucil has more pressing business than figuring out how to subsidize more. On a night where many of us are shocked by the tragedy in Haiti and thinking of ways to help there, the notion of more "affordible housing" in Evanston just really seems unimportant. Really, if you can't afford Evanston just move a few miles west or south or even 30 miles north. Maybe I'll be the one moving somewhere more affordable especially taxwise. Aghast could I survive outside of Evanston?

Rebuilding Together

Rebuilding Together is a volunteer-driven team that has worked on renovating many Evanston homes over the past ten or so years. Evanston's two Rotary clubs have provided the funding and people-power to make existing homes safer and more energy efficient for low-income, elderly long-time Evanston homeowners.