New single-family homes here only for the well-to-do

Recently completed homes in the 2300 block of Orrington Avenue. (Google Maps)

You'd need to be well into the top five percent of wage earners nationwide to afford the median-priced new detached single-family home built in Evanston in the past decade.

An Evanston Now analysis of City of Evanston building permit data and Cook County Assessor's Office home valuations shows that the median value for a single-family home completed here since 2008 now stands at over $1.1 million.

And the median values vary a lot from ward to ward.


The building permit records indicate no new single family homes were completed in the 9th Ward during the period.

The lowest valuation on a recently completed home is $219,320 for a subsidized house in the 5th Ward. The highest valuation is $6.42 million for a lakefront home in the 7th Ward.

To cover the payments on a $1.1 million home, assuming current mortgage interest rates of just over 4 percent for someone with a strong credit rating, a 20 percent downpayment and principal, interest, property tax and insurance costs of no more than 30 percent of income, a person would need an annual income of nearly $260,000.

That would put an individual wage earner well into the income level of the folks just below the top 1 percent of wage earners. Those who are in the 95th to 99th percentile average an annual income of $195,070.

Of course Evanstonians tend to be more well-to-do than the national average, and homes are bought by households, most often married-couple families with more than one wage earner.

The Census Bureau says 15.9 percent of Evanston households have income of $200,000 or more while fully a third of married-couple families reach that number.

But the clear conclusion is that -- except for a tiny number of deeply-subsidized homes being constructed in the 5th Ward through the Evanston Township High School geometry in construction program -- new detached single-family homes in town are generally making Evanston's affordable housing problem worse, not better.

On the other hand, only about 89 detached single-family homes have been completed here in the last decade, so their overall impact on the available housing stock has been modest 

Topic: 

Comments

Expand and deepen the tax base

Evanston needs to continue to expand our tax base through thoughtful development of both new single family construction but also "densifying" the core downtown area with more new office buildings and condo/apartment construction. The recent District 65 contract will raise their cost structure over the next 5 years, and the recent City of Evanston's employment contracts will also further strain the fiscal challenges in Evanston. 

Everyone wants more, more, more and in order to pay the bills we need to expand and deepen the tax base.

Econ 101 on affordability

"But the clear conclusion is that ... new detached single-family homes in town are generally making Evanston's affordable housing problem worse, not better."

It is just the opposite: even though these houses are expensive, they are likely to improve affordability for all. Building more of ANY type of housing (if done on empty land, as in the pictured example) tends to lower the price of ALL types of housing. Some of the people buying these homes will sell smaller houses they now own in Evanston, some of which will be bought by people now renting in Evanston, and so on, lowering prices throughout the distribution.

The exception to this rule is if the new housing makes a place so "cool" that more people suddenly want to move in than can fit into the newly built houses. This may be an issue in gentrifying city neighborhoods suddenly overrun by hipsters, but is unlikely to be the case in good old Evanston.

Affordability

Hi Matt,

The houses in the photo are among the 19 homes built on the former Kendall College site. They replaced student dormitories -- an example, generally speaking, of low-income housing.

Most of the other new homes built in Evanston over the past decade replaced more modest homes that previously existed on their lots.

In a city where the median value of an existing owner-occupied home is $367,300 -- having new single family homes be priced at an average of over $1 million does make the affordability problem worse -- since those lots might have instead been used for multifamily housing that would have a lower per-unit cost.

Multi-family housing, in fact, had been proposed for the Kendall site, but was rejected by the City Council in the face of neighborhood opposition.

I don't mean to suggest that property owners should be forbidden from building expensive houses if they choose, or that people who can afford expensive houses shouldn't be allowed to build them in Evanston.

But given that Evanston is essentially completely built up, choosing to build $1 million plus homes does, at the margin, aggravate the affordable housing problem.

The relevant question is whether the city will encourage construction of more affordable housing or continue to use its zoning powers to discourage it -- by limiting where multi-family housing can be built, requiring large lot sizes for single family homes and restricting construction of accessory dwelling units.

The story presents a set of facts. How we choose to respond to those facts is up to us.

-- Bill

Affordability

Sure, when we compare building single family homes to building multi-family units on the same sites, building the larger units would do more for affordability. But building single family homes is still better than doing nothing, and hence does not make affordability worse per se.

In practice, bigger units in the single family neighborhoods are currently not a realistic option, because of zoning and also neighborhood opposition. Perhaps we should aim to change that, but in the meantime any new housing will help both with supporting the tax base and with keeping housing costs in check.

Affordability

Does help with the tax base. Disagree that it helps with affordability.

-- Bill

It's a good thing there are

It's a good thing there are some higher priced homes, providing more tax revenue and transfer tax monies for the city (assuming buyers aren't totally turned off to the increase in getting out of the house). This article reads like a slam, but the cost of construction is not inexpensive, and builders are hoping to stay in business, not to break even. As it is there are many hoops to jump through to get a home built in Evanston. If you really want diversity you need the higher end homes as well. That said, a healthy real estate market is a good thing, but the reality is the market is not hot right now, and tones like this temper an already indifferent market.