Affordable housing plan divides council members

Matt Presser

BY MATT PRESSER AND JENNY SONGDespite general agreement that more affordable housing in Evanston is needed, aldermen remained divided over the proposed Inclusionary Housing Ordinance at the Planning and Development Committee meeting Monday night.

The proposal would require new residential developments of 25 or more units to make some units affordable for families earning less than 100 percent of Evanston’s median family income.

Some aldermen have suggested that up to 15 percent of housing units be set aside for middle- to low-income families.

Aldermen debated whether developers should be allowed to pay a fee instead of building the affordable units on site. The fee would be collected for an inclusionary housing fund that would be used to build affordable housing at another location.

Several council members expressed concerns that the proposal would increase costs for developers and dissuade them from building in Evanston, an opinion echoed by John Crocker, a developer for Evanston Prairie I.

“We have been experiencing a tremendous increase in construction costs,” Crocker said. “You may be taking a lot of developments off the table.”

The city’s development boom is already fading, several aldermen said. The proposal could cause it to taper off completely.

“We’re already experiencing a slowdown,” said Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd). “We have to be careful about how much additional drag we put on the system.”

Howard Street, which has missed much of the development boom, needs the attention of small developers who would be driven away by the proposal, said Ald. Ann Rainey (8th).

City Manager Julia Carroll suggested that council members add language to the ordinance that would give developers some zoning allowances, such as extra height or density, in return for affordable housing.

“(Otherwise) we’re putting the burden on one side of the equation,” Carroll said.

But Wynne said constituents would have severe objections to any extra allowances. Residents frequently have voiced complaints about any allowances granted by the City Council for planned developments.

“Developers will want to go above the development allowance,” Wynne said. “I think most people will have our heads.”

A decision will be delayed until developers meet with city officials and consultants assess the financial impact of this type of ordinance.

Ald. Edmund Moran (6th) said he was tired of listening to developers’ predictable speeches. He said the discussion had been going on for more than three years already and that the council can’t afford to let developers further delay affordable housing goals.

Aldermen will revisit the issue June 12.

The council also agreed to allow electronic voting by aldermen during meetings. Under the amendment to the city code, council members would be allowed one electronic vote per year in the case of serious illness or disability, absence due to business or other emergencies.

Reach Matt Presser at [email protected] and Jenny Song at [email protected]