How can the city get the most affordable housing?

Kent Swanson and Ann Rainey.

Members of a City Council subcommittee Wednesday night suggested at their first meeting that creating subsidized housing units in new downtown high-rises isn't the best way to maximize the amount of affordable housing in Evanston.

Kent Swanson of Riverside Investment & Development said, "It's an expensive solution to be producing units at $300,000 a copy."

Swanson suggested that with building code changes it would be possible to create much lower-cost housing units -- most likely in low-rise buildings outside downtown.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the same effect could also be achieved by subsidizing rental units in existing, relatively low-cost buildings.


Jolene Saul.

The push for including on-site subsidized units in new construction projects has been driven by at least two factors -- a desire to increase economic diversity in the new projects and concerns about delays in producing the affordable units if the city has to get fee-in-lieu funds from one developer and then find another developer to produce the affordable units.

Jolene Saul, of Brinshore Development, said that while she'd love to get the cost of affordable units down, "We have to make sure that housing --wherever we put it -- is not perpetuating segregation and that it's accessible to transportation and amenities."


Stacie Young.

But Stacie Young, of Community Investment Corporation, said there are existing rental units in transit-oriented-development areas that could be subsidized to become affordable units. "We could create affordable housing for a lot less cost for more people."


Eleanor Revelle.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said she was struggling to figure out what would be the "clear and convincing" evidence of financial infeasibility, called for in the city's inclusionary housing ordinance, that would justify modifying the ordinance's requirements for a particular project.

Those requirements now call for a $100,000 fee-in-lieu contribution from the developer -- or an on-site affordable unit -- for every 10 housing units included in the project.

Swanson said it all depends on bank financing. "If you don't have a project that a bank will lend you money on, it's not going to get built," he said.

But it's a process, Swanson added, and "sometimes the bank believes more of what you say; sometimes less."

At the suggestion of the committee chair, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, and other members, the committee asked city staff to schedule workshop-style presentations on development financing and other issues, starting with the committee's next meeting on Feb. 7.

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Qualification process

Question on affordable housing for those in the know: if somebody qualifies for an affordable housing unit based on their income, but gets a new job that puts them over the income threshold, do they get kicked out of the unit? That is, do you simply need to qualify once and move in, or do you need to "re-qualify" by providing proof of low income on a rolling basis (annually)?

Depending on the answers to those questions, the system potentially creates perverse economic incentives if it actually incentivizes people to NOT get better jobs. If it's a "once you're in, you're in" system, then that is also subject to potential abuse as somebody who has a low income momentarily (e.g. decides to become a student for a year), but then gets a good job and then never moves since their rent is heavily subsidized.

I guess my point is that economists would argue that putting in rules that distort the market often have unintended consequences even when the initial intentions are good.

With all that said, I personally WOULD like to see more diversity in housing prices in these new developments. But I would like to see more affordable housing geared towards middle class rather than just exclusively lower class. Evanston should strive to become a home for all types of people and not become even more bifurcated case of "have's" and "have not's" which is what a luxury high rise with a few low-income units often does. In order for the developer to afford the low-income units, they HAVE to have all the rest be super high end. If, instead, you incentivized them to build more non-luxury units, they'd be able to do so much more readily as they don't have to take a huge financial hit. They could be only very slightly subsidized, or basically market rate but with different finishes so the costs are lower. Developers could then more easily turn a profit without having to rely on absurdly high rental prices for all the other units and there would be even more socioeconomic diversity within the downtown area. But I'm sure the political activists would never go for an idea that encourages "middle-class" housing rather than subsidized units to go to the lower class.

The "inclusionary" housing ordinance has the potential to create something that is inclusionary to the upper class and lower class, but not much in between....I don't personally think a further bifurcated market is a good thing for Evanston. I'd like to see more of a bell curve and have a strong foundation of middle-class residents.

Put the affordable housing east of Chicago Ave. Now!!!

Evanston's housing stock is the most diverse on the North Shore hands down. But we need more affordable housing?

Anon, you raise a really good point. I bet people learn to play the system, get on the list and enjoy the low rents and such as they eventually earn more income or maybe not. Either way, they know who's who at city hall and not only do they vote but they get their friends and family to vote.

Here's what I think has been happening in Evanston over the decades. It's classic Democratic party politics - Chicago style. Elected officials provide affordable housing and other giveaways to its constituents in return for votes. To increase the voter base, our government churns out more affordable housing.

Each year, our elected officials play Santa Claus and dole out $2 million in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds in certain "selected" areas of Evanston to certain selected groups. Along with annual CDBG grant, the city enjoys millions in its affordable housing funds it got from developers and people razing homes in Evanston. Compound that with handling food vouchers and a ton of other city and state governmental services, Evanston's city government has become a huge and bloated bureaucracy for the dependent class.

Ever notice how Wilmette and Skokie government services are superior, including its park and recreation system? It's because those cities do NOT pour tons of resources into providing services for the non-working poor. I know of several landlords in Evanston where HUD pays 90 percent of their tenants' rent. And these particular tenants are young able bodied but do not work full time or at all. And now our government wants more affordable housing?

Let's end housing segregation in Evanston. We need a lot of affordable housing near the lake, east of Chicago Ave. and next to multi million dollar mansions. Watch the limousine liberals squirm and scream "not in my back yard!!!"

End segregation and hate, put them east of Chicago, next to the lake!!!

It's kinda catchy, ain't it?

Affordable Housing ? Rent control next ?

There have been comments bordering if not explicit for 'rent control.'
Look how well that did in NYC and uber-liberal Berkeley California---Berkeley eventually backed off.
Yes rents have gone up in Evanston and are high for some places, but efforts to control rent have the effect of making other rental properties less affordable and keeping development out. In Berkeley owners would tear down good housing and rebuild--otherwise the rents they were getting would not cover costs. Recall all the news stories and TV shows [e.g. 'Friends'/movies ['When Harry Met Sally'] about children/relatives/others illegally moving into rent controlled apartments originally rented by a deceased person.
The Council will probably go this way soon---they are about out of gimmicks.

So, facts are optional?

So this statement: "Here's what I think has been happening in Evanston over the decades. It's classic Democratic party politics - Chicago style. Elected officials provide affordable housing and other giveaways to its constituents in return for votes. To increase the voter base, our government churns out more affordable housing." The 8th & 5th Wards have the highest population density, the lowest median incomes, and THE WORST VOTER TURNOUT. You should read up on the "welfare queen" myth created by Reagan.

Thank you, Anonymous Al

Al, Thank you for the succinct analysis of the dysfunctional Evanston city government and the failing affordable housing program. A rudimentary knowledge of the economic theory of supply and demand explains the foolishness of affordable housing in Evanston.

Affordable Housing

I've seen this topic come up numerous times in Evanston. Either the building owner pays off the city so as not to need to incorporate affordable housing. Can't believe that's allowed. Seen that happen 2-3 times. Or those Evanston residents that are pro-affordable housing, have a not in my backyard attitude - they want it but not too close to where they live. Sick and tired of these posers who fight for equality, but don't want it near their homes. 

There need to be more

There need to be more affordable middle class homes. For people like me. Who make under $50,000 a year. I make under $40,000. Born and raised here and still living in Evanston. I got an adjustable mortgage and a zero interest HELOC back in 2004 when credit was easy. I can't afford to live here anymore, so I am moving.

Now that my HELOC went up, I am paying $2000 a month for my condo and assessments. I paid $1300 a month when I bought this condo in 2004. And let's not talk about taxes.

It was pretty segregated when I was growing up here. African Americans had their own hospital and YMCA. The black people I knew of mostly lived in the area around the high school.

Guess what? People don't much think about this, but a lot of African American families have been in Evanston for many generations. I bet that most of the white people haven't been here that long.

Anyways, I would like to see things be fair for all of us.I am guessing that property values went up in the area around the high school when the white people started moving in.

So how diverse is it going to be here? I laugh when people from Boston and New York love moving here because of the diversity. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Who is meant ?

I wish there was a requirement that any story/comment about Affordable Housing would include who the writer means and the income level---e.g. for single person, family of four, etc..
As it is writers are mostly vague hoping readers will read into the article, what the author meant but vague enough that those who would disagree with other groups being meant, won't be turned-off.
Some writers seem to mean low income or mid-low income. Other hope the term means to readers teachers, policemen, city employees. For either definition they usually don't say if they are talking about a single person, couple, family of X. And as several have commented over time, what is the criteria for having to move out--as one person asked what if [made good income], was now in college now and needs affordable housing, but will graduate in several years with degree that brings a good income. Can they stay in affordable housing ?
It appears city officals and advocates don't know the answers either from their actions. They want to ignore whether or not Evanston meets any/all standard for affordable housing---instead they want to earn more brownie points for being able to claim how 'progressive' Evanston [they] are.

Affordable Housing: around city officials

How many aldermen have affordable housing on their block ? Within one block ? How many have pushed [block meetings, petitions, sought contractors/bids for, pushed to have vacant lots/foreclosed property/parks converted] for affordable housing on their block ?
Same for Mayor, City Manager, department managers and up, those pushing for affordable housing ?
Relaxing regulations so more homeless/poor can occupy a house--i.e. so X un-related can live per bedroom, convert [even hang blankets] to more 'bedrooms' ?

Al, you said "$2 million in

Al, you said "$2 million in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds in certain "selected" areas of Evanston to certain selected groups. Along with annual CDBG grant, the city enjoys millions in its affordable housing funds it got from developers and people razing homes in Evanston. Compound that with handling food vouchers and a ton of other city and state governmental services, Evanston's city government has become a huge and bloated bureaucracy for the dependent class."

DId you notice developers only pay $100,000 to not have to put in affordable housing apartments? Did you know it was only $40,000 not too long ago? Is that a joke or what?


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