Citizens urge city to make housing more accessible

Dalia Naamani-Goldman

Jan Weeks says she’s being stifled.

The Evanston woman, who uses a wheelchair, says her housing options here are limited. And she feels the city’s aldermen simply aren’t listening.

“If you’re disabled and have bucks, you can live wherever,” she said. “There’s a lot of us that would really like to move elsewhere.”

Weeks is one of a number of residents who say their pleas to city officials and developers to make more housing both affordable and accessible have fallen on deaf ears.

“There seems to be a much greater awareness about affordable housing than there is about accessible housing,” said Betsy Uzzell, who is on the city’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee on the Americans with Disabilities Act (CACADA).

“But I would think that a proportion of those who need affordable housing includes the handicapped,” Uzzell said.

Mary Friedl, who uses a wheelchair, is not just concerned about accessible housing. She is working to make the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St., more accessible as well.

Nonetheless, she said she finds the housing situation problematic.

Friedl said she is concerned about the city’s subsidizing $100,000 in mortgages for two new homes at 1813 Lyons St., a plan to keep affordable housing in Evanston.

“If the city is going to subsidize mortgages, it seems to me they should be accessible,” she said. “Just be fair.”

Even so, Friedl said she understands why many homes are not accessible.

“There are so many (guidelines),” she said. “That’s part of the problem. It’s very confusing for builders.”

James Wolinski, director of community development, said all new building plans submitted to the city must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Illinois Accessibility Code.

Uzzell said she knows many people who have tried to contact their aldermen to discuss accessibility for those with disabilities, but their messages were not returned.

“It’s frustrating because the aldermen have a lot to say about housing, especially in their wards,” she said.

There are limited housing options for people with disabilities, said Theresa Phillips, development manager for Over the Rainbow, a local nonprofit organization that maintains apartments accessible to those with disabilities and uses federal funds to supplement housing costs.

The organization owns and manages units at the Hill Arboretum Apartments, 2040 Brown Ave.

Phillips said she only knows of a handful of other buildings that are entirely accessible and funded by federal vouchers.

The CACADA does not generally focus on accessibility issues concerning new home development, Uzzell said. She said much of the committee’s time is taken up by and other city-wide issues, like making the civic center more accessible and reserving parking spaces at the library.

Nonetheless, she said accessible housing is important to the committee.

“We are seeing the need to get at the front of these commissions and discussions,” she said. “It’s a fait accompli by the time we hear about it.”

Ald. Joseph Kent (5th) said he will urge developers to look into accessibility. The homes with mortgage subsidies by the city are being built in his ward, and the developer has plans for more affordable homes in the area as well.

“It’s something we’ll definitely push for,” he said. “It’s something we definitely should be concerned for, but it’s not up on the radar screen (yet).”

Weeks said builders and city officials alike ought to take the initiative and locate more housing for those Evanston residents who are disabled.

“If Evanston is a caring, liberal, embracing town that it has the reputation as (being), this shouldn’t be a problem,” she said.