Alderman will combat affordable housing law

Breanne Gilpatrick

A proposed inclusionary housing ordinance for Evanston hasn’t left the city’s legal department, but at least one alderman already has said she plans to vote against it.

At the Nov. 8 Planning and Development Committee meeting, the Evanston Housing Commission presented a summary of three proposed ordinances that together would form a new affordable housing policy.

The policy would require a certain percentage of any new rental and for-sale housing to be set aside for affordable units. Rental housing would be considered affordable if it is within the means of households earning less than 50 percent of the Evanston area’s median income — a monthly rent of $943 for a family of four.

For-sale homes would have to be priced at about $140,000, or affordable for households earning less than 80 percent of the Evanston area median income.

Developers who offer affordable housing could earn benefits from the city — including permission to build taller, higher-density buildings.

The ordinances now are being reviewed by Evanston’s legal department and probably will be introduced to the Planning and Development Committee next month, said Evanston Housing Commission Chairwoman Robin Snyderman Pratt.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said the benefits to developers would not be acceptable to the council or to her constituents, who already feel current limits on height and density need to be decreased.

“If we are such a desirable place, I don’t see why we’re trading things that are so valuable for this,” Wynne said at the meeting.

She said she would like to see more focus on a section of the ordinances allowing developers to pay a fee in lieu of building affordable housing. Evanston then could use the money to buy city-owned affordable housing.

Snyderman Pratt emphasized that the developer benefits on the list given in Monday’s summary would be subject to council approval in each case and would not be granted to all developers automatically.

“With this policy, we would only give (the developer benefit options) as a very special gift to the people forwarding this very special policy of ours,” she said.

Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) said the city already grants most of these benefits to developers and that the affordable housing policy would allow the city to benefit from that.

“I’m just saying if you’re giving away the store, you should get something out of it,” Bernstein said at the meeting.

Bernstein said Tuesday that he doesn’t have a problem with developers building tall structures downtown to preserve green space.

Affordable housing advocate Sue Carlson, homesharing specialist for the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, said there is a base of support for affordable housing policies.

Residents have circulated petitions in support of affordable housing policies and collected hundreds of signatures, she said.

Carlson said the proposed Evanston housing policy is similar to current inclusionary housing policies in Santa Fe, N.M., and Montgomery County, Md., just outside Washington, D.C.

Tedi Osias, director of legislative and public affairs for the Housing Opportunities Commission in Montgomery County, said the county’s inclusionary housing program also provides developer benefits, like the density bonus being discussed in Evanston.

And the Montgomery County Council will soon vote on whether to allow even more height and density to encourage more affordable housing units in downtown areas.

“We want low-, moderate- and high-income housing everywhere in our county,” Osias said. “We want to avoid the concentration of poverty.”

Although Evanston has rental housing, Bernstein said it is very difficult for many people to find an affordable house or condominiums in the area.

“I think affordable housing is necessary,” Bernstein said. “We pride ourselves on our diversity, but most Evanstonians can’t afford to live here anymore and we have to do something.”

Reach Breanne Gilpatrick at [email protected]