Council, city staff discuss proposed boost to housing fund

Max Gelman, Gameday Editor

City Council is preparing Evanston’s budget for next year as aldermen heard presentations breaking down the budget for the 2017 fiscal year Monday.

One of the most discussed topics during the presentation was the need for affordable housing funding. For the fiscal year 2017, affordable housing in Evanston will need an increase of at least $1.3 million, including more than $1 million for the Affordable Housing Fund, to “work with local affordable housing entities and developers to develop new income-restricted units in the community,” Director of Community Development Mark Muenzer said during Monday’s presentation.

“I know we’ve had this conversation quite a bit, and there was always a hesitancy to do that because we did not have a reliable funding source … going into the Affordable Housing Fund,” Muenzer said. “We are now anticipating that those funds will start to develop over the next few years with several planned development projects.”

Muenzer added the funds would likely be geared toward rental units, but ideally homeowners will also be included in the mix.

Overall, the fiscal year 2016 budget is estimated to close with a surplus of about $1.7 million. The total proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 is $303.9 million, which is slightly less than last year’s budget of $304.5 million — a decrease of 0.8 percent.

The city’s general fund, which pays for public safety, public works and community services, will comprise about 37 percent of the 2017 budget, or about $112 million, according to the proposal. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said last week the uncertainty of the Illinois state budget situation has forced Evanston to keep a “lean” budget.

A 2.4 percent property tax increase was also proposed in order to increase the money in the police and fire department pension funds. Bobkiewicz said the pension situation was “still a challenge.”

“The sheer dollar amounts that we are devoting to pensions is extraordinarily significant and takes away from our ability to do other things with that money,” Bobkiewicz said. “It is going to remain a challenge for the future.”

Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons wrapped up the budget presentation, proposing to the council the idea of hiring a full-time social worker to help some of the homeless and disadvantaged library patrons at both the main library and the Chicago Avenue/Main Street branch.

For the last couple years, Danczak Lyons said, the library has been using social worker interns to help such patrons meet their respective needs and find appropriate social programs. Danczak Lyons said she recognizes obtaining grant funding for such a proposal will be difficult because of the ongoing state budget crisis, but the more “fragile” patrons are not getting the social services they need.

“Many social programs are not taking any new cases,” Danczak Lyons said. “But making sure that, along with providing a safe place for our patrons to be everyday, that we can connect them to social services, that will really make a difference for them.”

The city will be able to consider the library’s proposal before the final budget will be approved. A final budget will likely be approved in late November, Bobkiewicz said.

A meeting for public input on the proposed budget will be held on Oct. 29.

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