Analysis: Evanston aldermen this week signed themselves up for what may well turn out to be an impossible task — trying to make housing affordable in the city.

Housing advocates argue that people should not have to spend more than roughly a third of their income on housing — that above that level housing expenses start to crowd out other spending that’s important to living a decent life.

The latest numbers from the U.S. Census say that the following percentages of people spend more than 35 percent of their income on housing:

  • 46.5 percent of renters in Evanston, and 42.6 percent across Illinois.
  • 30.9 percent of homeowners in Evanston with a mortgage and 29 percent across Illinois.
  • 14.7 percent of homeowners in Evanston without a mortgage and 13 percent across Illinois.

So, we can see that the housing affordability issue is somewhat more severe in Evanston, but not radically different from that across the state.

The same Census Bureau report also says that Evanston has:

  • 12,451 renter-occupied housing units,
  • 12,039 owner-occupied housing units with a mortgage, and
  • 4,171 owner-occupied housing units without a mortage.

So, you do a little math and find out that Evanston needs:

  • 5,790 affordable units for renters,
  • 3,720 affordable units for homeowners with mortgages, and
  • 613 affordable units for homeowners without a mortgage,

or a total of 10,123 affordable units.

The housing advocates — in a package of proposed amendments to the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance that the aldermen Monday night decided weren’t ready for prime time —  have suggested that a subsidy of $100,000 could create one affordable housing unit in Evanston.

At a cost of $100,000 per unit, creating 10,123 affordable units would require a subsidy of just over $1 billion. To put that in perspective, it’s roughly four times the city’s entire annual budget.

And, solving the problem the way housing advocates have proposed, by squeezing the $100,000 out of developers at a rate of one $100,000 subsidy for every nine market rate units built, means we’d need to add a total of 101,230 new housing units to the town to get the 10,123 affordable ones.

At our current average of 2.6 residents per dwelling unit, that means we’d be adding 263,198 new residents to Evanston in the process of solving the housing affordability crisis.

Considering that a lot of Evanstonians seem to be opposed to any growth — it certainly will come as a shock to them to see that the solution involves increasing the town’s population to roughly 338,000 people — making Evanston by far the second largest city in the state, after Chicago, and giving it a population density of roughly 43,000 people per square mile — substantially greater than that of New York City.

And there’s one other little problem with the plan. There’s nothing to prevent some proportion of the nine-out-of-10 new residents who won’t be getting a subsidy from taking on more housing cost burden than the affordable housing advocates think they should — thus perpetuating the problem the housing advocates seek to solve.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Affordable Housing

    Successful cities can and should accommodate residents with diverse incomes and backgrounds. This diversity is a major part of what makes cities desireable places to live. In a democratic society, the job of how to provide housing for all people- low, middle and high income -goes to city planners and architects. Affordable housing, when it's done well, can be a tremendous force for any city. When residents have comfortable homes that they can afford then they can lead happier, easier and lower stress lives. This is good for everyone and is the whole point behind choosing to live in an urban community rather than in isolation somewhere. If Evanston is serious about developing high quality affordable housing- and it should be- then a great way to begin is by holding urban planning and architectural design competions. We need great ideas first before we can build the safe, comfortable and affordable Evanston of the future. 

  2. Out of our range

    With the passage of time, this building is going to out of our range, as we cannot bear the cost.

  3. Need to bolster middle class families

    The families like mine that populate Evanston are those who pay much more in hidden taxes than our stated percentage income tax. So we pay really high income taxes and we pay to use the beaches. We build sporting complexes and recreation depts and pay high fees to use those as well. Vehicle registrations, etc, etc. We are about as squeezed as can be. We get Chicago's overflow of homeless because of our community's history of caring about the homeless. We need to do more to bolster the middle class families in Evanston that are struggling. 

    1.  Don’t worry about it man,

       Don't worry about it man, Liz and Wally are working on it. A nickle here, a dime there, they will leave no coin unturned. They say Wally was hired because he had perfected a special talent, squeezing blood from a turnip.

  4. Can’t have it both ways.

    Creating more affordable housing options is a noble goal.  However, the approach of inclusionary zoning activists is to place the sole financial burden on multi-unit property owners.  As proposed, a person building a $5 million mansion along the lakefront would not have to contribute a penny to affordable housing, but a person putting their life savings into a five-unit apartment building in order to send his or her kids to college, would be compelled to donate, possibly up to a $50,000, to fund affordable housing – this is regardless if the owner’s investment is successful or not.  In an attempt to off-set those costs, the property owner, if they don’t choose another community to invest their limited dollars, will surely attempt to pass off, in whole or part, those costs to the other units, thus increasing housing costs and pricing others out of Evanston. 

    Increasing housing costs and discouraging investment in Evanston will decrease the supply of affordable housing, not increase it.  The City should first look toward regulatory reform to increase affordable housing options – allowing greater density, reducing building fees (e.g. permits, impact fees, etc.), rescinding the brothel law, allowing greater housing diversity (e.g. apartments over storefronts, smaller apartment unit sizes, etc.), reducing the tax burden, and the like will help ease the housing burden.    

    Howard Handler
    Government Affairs Director
    North Shore – Barrington Association of REALTORS

  5. who benefits?

    Can anyone describe a way to increase affordable housing that does not end up with the subsidy in the pockets of banks?

    1. Affordable Housing

      Bill, I think your analysis and comments, and cosequently those commenting, have been misdirected as to the customer base that would be targetted in the IZ Ordinance.  As I recall the staff indcated the units would be avaialble to those in the income level of teachers, fire fighters and police, city employees for examples, so they could live in Evanston.  This has been a long time goal and not one to be disparaged.  I'm dismayed at some of the comments.  Evanston is Evanston in good part because of our diversity, in ethnicity, in income level and in housing "costs".  

      1. Good Intentions BUT…

        A problem with "affordable housing" similar to other "worthy" government interventions like subsidizing Evanston businesses, reducing income inequality, providing food to the hungry, buying guns to get them off the streets, etc. etc. is that the politicians who champion these efforts advance their pet projects for political purposes instead of getting the results they espouse. Their typical superficial approach in general doesn't lead to tangible, sustainable and measurable results because the programs they implement are usually not well designed and typically poorly executed.

        How many housing programs have been implemented in Evanston over the last 20 years and how successful have they been? Does the City government have an accurate accounting of all their projects which have received millions in Federal, State and Local funding?

        If government officials would present a thorough analysis, with reasonable projections and think through the potential unintended consequences I am more than happy to reconsider my skeptical opinion of their proposed projects. I'd also like to see updates for all the projects they've undertaken in the past to evaluate their success and learn what's worked well and what needs to be improved. They bear the burden of proof, and what I've observed over the last 20 + years leaves a lot to be desired.

      2. Housing by Income

        You wrote "income level of teachers, fire fighters and police, city employees for examples, so they could live in Evanston."
        I don't know for sure, but I read and assume, these make at least $60,000 per year.
        Here is a table of the monthly rent or the mortgage [assuming 30% of income] is available.  To me these do not fit in the definition of being in need for 'affordable' housing to live in Evanston.  Maybe not top level places, but not subsistence.
        Mortgage Rate  5%          30 Year
        Household Income          Mortgage            Monthly Mortgage or Rent

        $50,000                                 $258,465.74        $1,387.50
        $60,000                                 $310,158.89        $1,665.00
        $70,000                                 $361,852.04        $1,942.50

        1. Is the PITI

          Do your mortgage  payment include PITI (Principal,Interest,Taxes, Insurance). Some people don't realize how much this adds to the monthly Mortgage. Anmual property tax bill of $6,000 can add $500 a month to payment.

          1. Just Principal and Interest

            No Taxes or Insurance or anything else.  They can vary too much, esp. Taxes, even on 'similar' properties which even sell for very near the same price.

  6. Milton’s wisdom

    It would have been Milton Friedmen's 102nd birthday today. (If you do not know who he is, take the time to look him up. You will learn many new and wise things. He popularized the saying, "There is no such thing as a free lunch"). Here is just one of many wise and pithy quotes.

    "The society that puts [economic] equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both.”

    The years of progressive economic programs is putting too much strain on the middle class in this community. Will the City Council ever learn from past mistakes?


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