Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Everything Evanston: Behind the boba in downtown Evanston

Council must make affordable housing happen

Ask any Evanston politician to give you a list of the biggest problems facing the city, and you’ll likely hear something about the lack of affordable housing. In fact, a recent study found that Evanston is the 5th-most expensive college town in the country, with an average home price of $674,250. We even edged out Coral Gables, the pricey Miami suburb whose shopping district is called Miracle Mile.

Seeing the attention given to affordable housing, some city residents have seized the issue for their own selfish needs. In west Evanston, where a developer is proposing a building with 27 affordable apartments at Church Street and Darrow Avenue, neighbors have objected to what they say will be too many poor people in one place.

Another developer wants to build a 55-unit luxury condo complex on Central Street. At a meeting last month, residents there offered the same “not in my backyard” hogwash that passes for rhetoric these days. But they thought up an additional “reason” for opposing the project: Low-income people won’t be able to afford to live there. Maybe the Darrow developer should build some affordable units next to Ryan Field. I’m sure the neighbors would love it.

The hypocrisy on Central doesn’t even compare to what’s happening on Darrow. A prominent area landlord said at a February meeting that the new building will be like Cabrini-Green, the infamous Chicago housing project that’s now being torn down. A woman who owns the rental building across the street also protested, suggesting that future tenants will be drug dealers who won’t pay the rent.

“The people objecting are all property owners who are trying to rent in the area,” said Bennet Johnson, a board member of a local community group. “The rent Darrow Corners will charge is much lower than what they are charging.”

The comparison to Cabrini-Green is what disturbed me. The projects in Chicago warehoused thousands of poor people in cheaply built high-rises surrounded by acres of empty space. They were isolated from the rest of the city. Darrow Corners will add just 27 families to a built-up neighborhood. The neighbors and landlords’ argument is thus reduced to: “Let’s not do it because someone once did it differently and screwed up.”

What would help is some sort of comprehensive affordable-housing strategy, one that would give low-income people a chance to live somewhere other than west Evanston. One possible solution is a law that would require a certain percentage of units in new developments to be affordable. After two years of collecting dust in the Evanston Civic Center, this plan has a chance at approval this spring.

Current law allows developers to get away with building oversize luxury condo buildings as long as they provide some sort of “public benefit,” which could be as trivial as having an environmentally friendly design. Thus, the downtown condo dwellers save on electricity costs while the poor folks are priced out. In some cases, the developers give money to a city affordable housing fund as part of the “public benefit,” but that’s no guarantee of a permanent supply of low-income units.

The city government should step up and take action on affordable housing. That’s one top-five list Northwestern and Evanston would rather not be on.

City Editor Greg Hafkin is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Council must make affordable housing happen