Evanston Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, called Monday for a new approach to affordable housing policies in the city that would promote home ownership and help landlords maintain lower-cost rental properties.

He criticized programs, such as land trusts, that limit the ability of home owners to build equity in the property in which they live.

“When we have policies that preclude people from getting the benefits of equity in their property, we’re denying them the right and the opportunity to develop intergenerational wealth,” Wilson said. “Owning a piece of property and being able to get the equity from that over a period of time is one of the primary ways historically that people are able to develop wealth.”

“If we’re going to persist in having policies that lock people in to a minescule rate of return,” he added, “that’s promoting segregation, that’s promoting institutional racism.”

As for rentals, he said, “We have a lot of landlords in the community who have worked hard to maintain housing at market-rate affordable rates, but they’re not getting any help.”

He said activists who keep talking to aldermen about affordable housing issues, need to “start talking to your neighbors, they’re the ones you need to convince.”

He noted ongoing opposition to tall buildings downtown that would fund new affordable units and to projects that would bring affordable developments into other neighborhoods.

“Evanston remains a segregated community,” Wilson said. “It’s really beyond time to start thinking differently.”

“When people talk about ‘those people’ in new developments or say ‘renters are transients’ — that’s not a conversation I want to have,” Wilson said.

“I’m not going to affirmatively persist in perpetuating the institutional and systematic racism that leads us” to the city’s current housing patterns, he added.

Ann Rainey.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she was worried about what appeared to her to be a growing movement opposed to tall buildings downtown.

If the four projects now in the pipeline are turned down, she asked, how would the city fund new affordable housing?

“Who would we attract to replace even a small percentage of that housing?” she asked. “How would we incentivize — let’s say, a not-for-profit developer — to build the kind of housing that the public claims it wants?”

Robin Rue Simmons.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said she agreed with Wilson’s call for empowerment, not charity. She said the city should also offer financial literacy training for potential home buyers.

“My generation, they’re all leaving,” Rue Simmons said, “Families cannot afford to live in Evanston.”

She also urged that the city work to distribute affordable housing across the community.

And she agreed with Wilson that the city should develop programs to provide direct support to landlords who are providing low-cost housing to help maintain their units.

Melissa Wynne.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the city should encourage creation of more accessory dwelling units — coach houses and what some call granny flats. And she also suggested relaxing rules about the number of unrelated people who can live in a building to enourage multigenerational supportive housing communities. 

A lot of older people “don’t need to move into a nursing home, but having some support for them during the day is really important,” Wynne added.

The aldermen directed staff to prepare more documentation on the affordable housing issues ahead of a planned special Council meeting on the subject to be held on Monday, Oct. 30.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. How did they vote?

    Bill, would you be able to find out how the alderpersons voted over the last ten years on housing issues in Evanston (for example, the development of the Kendall College property et al…)

    1. Tedious

      That sounds like an extremely tedious project.

      The data would be available for anyone who cared to undertake the effort.

      But it’s not high on my priority list.

      — Bill

      1. I’m sorry

        I thought that your web site would have been able to use key phrases to get this information from your own publications.  I’m an older person and I admit to being computer challanged.  You are correct, trying to get this information would be tedious.  My bad!  

  2. Want peeps to stay? Lower our property taxes!

    I agree with Alderman Wilson that land trusts do not provide a chance to earn equity but to suggest it is “institutional racism” is ludicrous and well… racist. 

    Wilson and these other aldermen think only one race is affected by housing prices. I know of two families in Northwest Evanston that have sold their properties this year and moved to Skokie primarily because they could not afford or would not pay the rising property taxes. They are white.

    Someone remind these do gooder aldermen that want to spread GOVERNMENT sponsored affordable housing across Evanston that six years ago the city through an $18 million federal grant sold more than 50 rehabbed properties to famiies in two predominantly black areas of Evanston. More than 75 other properties from the grant money, some new, are rented to low income folks.

    Meanwhile, property taxes keep going up and people OF ALL COLORS are leaving Evanston because of it!!!! Wake up aldermen!!! 

    Evanston’s housing is generally cheaper than Skokie’s. You can find a house in Evanston for under $125,000 but not in Skokie or Wilmette or anywhere nearby. That’s the true meaning of affordable housing.

    We have enough government and non-profit run affordable housing programs in Evanston. If you want folks to stay in Evanston simply LOWER OUR PROPERTY TAXES!!!!!!! NOW!!!

    1. Evanstonians already voted to make housing more expensive

      If Evanston voters wanted housing to be less expensive, they would not have overwhelmingly passed the “we support district 65 teachers” tax increase this April. The Council can’t do much about this (well, I suppose they could make it worse).

      1. Referendum

        People need to stop referring to the referendum as a handout to teachers. It was an extremely complex budget issue caused by many forces, including a broke state, a huge increase in the number of students vs a a much slower growing tax base, old schools with significant capital requirements ,and a regulatory cap on how much $ cans be funneled to schools through the existing tax structure, etc. I’m not a teacher and I don’t have any motivation to advocate for teachers, but they seem to be the scapegoat.

        1. scapegoat or justified, it was still a main reason

          Except almost none of those factors were the driving force behind the budget issue.  The state looks likely to be funding at roughly same level as it has historically. The increase in students was accompanied with a roughly equal increase in revenue.  Capital requirements do not come out of the operating budget,, something likely to be more widely undestood soon as D65 has hinted several times there may be a request for money for capital improvements.  The teacher salaries are, naturally, the predominate part of the operating budget.  The teacher’s new contract gave them raises above what the existing revenue for the district could support without cuts to other services.  Hence, the need for the referendum and additional tax funds. Some may think it is a handout while others may think it was justified, but the reality is that teacher compensation did drive a significant amount of the need for additional tax revenue.  

          1. D65 Teachers and Referendum

            D65 teachers and staff are held in high regard and are respected and appreciated by our community.

            D65 teachers and staff work very hard to educate all students and their very different needs.

            D65 teachers and staff should be well compensated.

            Those 3 issues are a given, and from my perspective not subject to debate or discussion.

            The issue raised is why the need for the referendum and the impact on affordable housing in Evanston. 

            First, regarding the referendum. Teacher and staff (including administration) compensation, including salary and benefits account for approximately 80% of the budget. In order to sustain 3 1/2 to 4% salary growth and growing cost of benefits, more tax revenues need to be raised since Illinois school districts are subject to a CPI (inflation) tax cap. With inflation below 2% annually for the last almost 10 years, there is a structural deficit with Revenue growth (i.e. taxes) growing at a slower rate than expense growth (i.e. primarily salary and benefits). 

            Second, regarding housing affordability, there are different dimensions to examine. One aspect is the cost of buying a house, or condo, or renting an apartment. The other aspect is the annual cost to live in the house or condo and that is a function of taxes and assessments. Renters by the way also implicitly pay taxes since the landlords will generally raise rents to offset any tax increase. Some renters don’t think they pay property taxes since they’re not writing a check to Cook County, but they pay real estate taxes when they pay their monthly rent. As the cost of providing government services increases with more labor, more compensation, taxes by definition have to increase, making Evanston less affordable.

            At the end of the day, people can’t “have their cake and eat it too.”

            Decisions must be made and their primary, secondary, and tertiary implications need to be considered and analyzed BEFORE a final vote is cast. 

        2. Tax base is not growing

           Do you think that the tax base might not be growing because people are leaving Evanston, People are leaving Chicago, and people are leaving Illinois for years because taxes and fees are growing because of an unholy pace by the various goverments of those locals.


    2. homes comparisons

      I think it depends on what type of homes, and in which neighborhoods.  Skokie is way cheaper and they haven’t raised taxes in many years.   Rentals are at least 30-40% cheaper than Evanston.   I think Alderman Wilson is the only one with no blinders on.  I may be wrong, but it sure seems like the same old, same old issues just keep popping  up year after year.    

        1. By size?

          Hi Bill but that is not normalized by rental size. It might be possible that evanston has a lot more studios and 1br units for example whereas Skokie might have its housing stock skewed toward family sized rentals in which case the rent per sq foot might be much more different in the two communities. Not sure if it is or is not, just pointing out that median rent is not enough info.

          1. Good source?

            You got a good source for that data? I’m not aware of one off hand.

            There are sites (you could Google “median rent” + town name to find them) that purport to provide such data — but they tend to base their information on what’s being advertised in their own systems — which skews the data toward the newer, larger, more expensive, professionally managed properties that are most likely to advertise.

            — Bill

  3. Thank you Alderperson Wilson

    Totally agree with his perspective on this issue.  As for my former Alderperson Wynne, WTF?  Her suggestion about more coach houses, etc. was quite nonsensical.  Places I see coach houses are on larger lots, i.e., expensive houses.

    Bill, do you know/have data on which Alderspersons are unsupportive of high rise developments?

    1. Depends …

      It depends somewhat on the project and the neighborhood, but the most frequent votes against high-rise development seem to come from Aldermen Fiske and Wynne.

      — Bill

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