Housing changes affected racial makeup of Evanston, official says

Ani Ajith

In light of recently released 2010 Census data showing a 5 percent decrease in Evanston’s African-American population, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz suggested that high foreclosure rates over the past few years in several city wards played a part in the mini-exodus.

His theory echoes the findings of a widely reported 2010 Princeton study that found the risky subprime loans at the heart of the recent financial crisis were disproportionately aimed at minority communities.

The city received more than $18 million in federal funds early last year to restore foreclosed properties, which often fall into a state of disrepair following eviction, to a condition the city manager called “good use.” He cited work using this grant money and efforts to aid homeowners at risk of losing their homes as evidence of the city “proactively turning back the tide” of foreclosures.

While the African-American population in Evanston has declined – though it still remains the city’s largest minority at 18 percent of Evanston’s 74,486 people – the Hispanic or Latino and Asian populations both saw an approximately 3 percent uptick.

Bobkiewicz said this increase, among other effects, helps Northwestern, citing Evanston’s culturally diverse lifestyle offerings as a major asset to NU’s recruitment efforts.

“This diversity is a good reinforcement for Northwestern,” he said. “It sets it apart from other Big Ten institutions, and a diverse Evanston is attractive to past and current students.”

The Hispanic or Latino percentage of the U.S. population is expected to reach 24.3 percent by 2025, according to U.S. 2010 Census results. The Census Bureau categorizes respondents by race and ethnic origin as per self-identification; people who identify as Hispanic or Latino are generally grouped into one statistical group, “Hispanic or Latino.”

Bobkiewicz said Evanston’s virtually flat population over the past 10 years is good compared to the large declines across the Chicago area and Cook County.

Cook County lost 182,066 people, a 3.4 percent decline from 2000; Chicago’s population decreased by 6.9 percent, to 2,695,598.

“We’re maintaining the course, and the size of the community is vibrant,” Bobkiewicz said. “We don’t have to be big to offer good amenities.”

Bobkiewicz said the city expected many of the reported losses among homeowners and gains closer to downtown thanks to new condominium and other rental property developments. The shift in housing proportions, he said, is at least slightly reflected in the increase of Hispanic or Latino people, many of whom are renters.

“We’re going to continue being cautious on maintaining a balance between renters and owners,” he said. “We have to make sure homeownership, especially, is affordable for everyone.”

Census data on the racial makeup of communities are often used to tailor social services to better fit residents’ needs. The city’s existing Hispanic or Latino outreach efforts, largely handled by a community information specialist on city staff, have found many of the working families that make up a large part of the Hispanic or Latino population simply don’t have much time to be engaged, Bobkiewicz said.

As such, Bobkiewicz said Evanston would look to ramp up the currently “limited” outreach to the Hispanic or Latino population primarily through increased engagement with churches and other faith-based communities.

The city’s 311 service, which will launch in less than a week, will be staffed by bilingual operators and will also be able to access the services of a trained Spanish translator with a push of a button. City literature will continue to be provided in Spanish on an “as-needed” basis, Bobkiewicz said.

City staff will also encourage and aid niche commercial retail businesses such as ethnic grocery stores interested in setting up shop in Evanston.

“As the Hispanic or Latino and Asian population increases, we continue to be welcoming,” Bobkiewicz said. “We want to make sure there are housing, retail, recreation and worship options for everyone.”

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