Housing, youth employment discussed at Fifth Ward meeting

Kristina Karisch, Reporter

Some Fifth Ward residents said Thursday that affordable housing solutions and the continuation of the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program are the most crucial parts of the 2017 proposed budget to their community.

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said making affordable housing more accessible is crucial to the Fifth Ward.

“This affects a lot of people in our community … so we’re really trying to meet the needs of the ones who need it,” Holmes said.

The meeting focused on the proposed budget for 2017 prior to its public hearing on Oct. 29.

The proposed budget has a more than $1 million increase planned for the Affordable Housing Fund and a $300,000 increase to the HOME Fund to increase the number of affordable housing units available and the amount of money given for housing stipends, said Marty Lyons, assistant city manager.

Holmes said there will be a focus on affordable senior housing in the ward.

The proposed AHF increase partially comes from fees collected by the city from buildings that are fined when they do not meet city code. The HOME Fund receives federal money.

Based on the proposed budget, AHF would finance hotel voucher programs and long-term senior housing options. Other AHF and HOME funds would create new affordable housing units and helping maintain current units.

This potential increase ensures those looking for housing will have better financial means to do so and be able to find better rooms and apartments to stay in, Holmes said.

“We’re looking at whether or not we’re going to partner with a developer to build affordable housing units,” Lyons said. “We haven’t got that lined up, but we’re funding it, so we’ll explore all that next year.”

There will be a cross-departmental team in place to work toward the goal of increased affordable housing, using all available resources. Once plans are in place and it becomes time to find developers, the community would be able to provide input on potential developers, Lyons said.

An increase in jobs for the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program is included in the proposed budget, Lyons said.

The City of Evanston Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program provides summer jobs to young adults ages 14 to 18 that prepare them to take on jobs in the future and identify possible career interests. The program also aims to bring new employees to Evanston businesses and reduce crime rates among youth.

The program currently provides about 600 jobs, most with the City of Evanston itself, but with the goal to add 100 more jobs before the summer. To achieve this, the proposed budget includes a $200,000 increase in funds. The city is also looking to increase partnership with private sector employers to decrease program costs, while also increasing the amount of job opportunities available, Lyons said.

The total estimated cost for the expansion is $460,000, an increase that would happen incrementally. Lyons said that the primary goal for 2017 is to increase the program to 700 jobs.

Concern was raised during the meeting about whether or not the program will continue on following the election of a new mayor in April. Lyons said he was “optimistic” about the program’s continuation, as it has existed under several mayors and city councils.

Attendees of the meeting also identified housing and youth programs as their main areas of concern.

“In a community where we have so many youths, it’s important for them to have jobs,” resident Tamika Sargent said. “It’s important for them to have a sense of self-worth, that ‘I can go work in a community that I live in.’ I think it gives a sense of belonging.”

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