Ordinances could force affordability

Paul Thissen

If the Evanston Housing Commission’s wish is granted, new developments in Evanston will need to include affordable housing units.

The commission plans to present three ordinances to the Planning and Development Committee that would significantly increase the amount of affordable housing in Evanston if approved.

The first ordinance will require new developments to include between 10 and 20 percent affordable units — larger developments must designate a larger percentage of affordable housing. The second ordinance applies this percentage rule to apartments that are being converted into condominiums.

The third ordinance potentially would impose a tax on the demolition of old buildings and divert that money to the affordable housing fund, according to Robin Snyderman Pratt, chairwoman of Evanston’s Housing Commission.

But developers would not be obligated to abide by these restrictions — instead, they could pay the city a fee in lieu of building affordable units.

“Evanston’s at a perfect point in its history to do this, because we’re such an attractive place to do business,” Snyderman Pratt said. “The housing market is just taking off.”

The only suburb on the North Shore to have adopted an affordable housing plan is Highland Park, though many are required by state law to approve a plan by April.

Evanston is not affected by the state law. By the state’s calculations, about 26 percent of housing in Evanston is considered affordable.

A house or condominium is defined as affordable if it sells for less than $125,000, and a rental property must cost less than $775 per month. The size of the home, condominium or apartment is not factored in these guidelines, so studio and one bedroom apartments costing less than $775 per month still are considered affordable.

Although the ordinances would not include any specific provisions for how developers will be compensated for the affordable units, Snyderman Pratt said most developers would receive some sort of compensation.

“There have actually been some points in recent times and recent years where the city’s resources to promote affordable housing could not be spent because we didn’t have proposals,” she said.

Unless the compensation balances out the price of the affordable unit, the ordinance could have a significant impact on developers.

“(The ordinance) would affect us dramatically,” said Alan May, a realtor with Coldwell Banker. He represents Destefano Development on a new development of 14 condominiums on the 800 block of Foster Street.

“I’d be really surprised if he could have gone forward on a small project like this (without compensation),” May said.

Affordable housing advocates praised the proposed ordinances.

“One of the beauties of inclusionary zoning (is that) it spreads the affordability throughout the community … rather than segregating the affordable housing in one part of town,” said Sue Carlson, who is involved in several local affordable housing advocacy groups.

Beyond legislation, the Citizen’s Lighthouse Community Land Trust is working to preserve affordable housing in Evanston. The organization purchases property and does structural improvement, then sells the homes but keeps ownership of the land. Because the trust owns the land, homes cost 40 percent to 50 percent less.

“Over the long term, (the land trust is) probably the most effective way to preserve affordable housing,” Carlson said.

Those interested in buying an affordable home must go through a “complicated process,” including a series of meetings about the land trust and income requirements, Carlson said.

Carlson said she hopes the affordable units created by an inclusionary zoning law would be included in the land trust to make them more permanently affordable.

The land trust, still in its infancy, has not received any funding. Once it is approved as a nonprofit group, it will be soliciting both government money and private donations.

The housing commission will discuss the proposed ordinances Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

Reach Paul Thissen at [email protected]