City candidates discuss affordable housing, development


Maytham Alzayer/The Daily Northwestern

Candidates for mayor, city clerk and 5th Ward alderman sit onstage at a forum Thursday night. The candidates discussed affordable housing and property taxes, among other items, at the forum.

Kristina Karisch, Assistant City Editor

Candidates for mayor, city clerk and 5th Ward alderman addressed issues from affordable housing to property taxes in Evanston at a forum event in the 5th Ward on Thursday evening.

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) told The Daily she hosted the forum, which was open to questions from the audience, to get all the candidates in one room together and allow them to introduce themselves to the residents.

“I think that people enjoyed it, and it was a first chance to get the candidates all together,” Holmes told The Daily. “That’s how you make an informed decision — listen to them all together.”

The candidates spoke about a variety of issues including the importance of workforce development and property taxes. The issue they discussed most was affordable housing.

Most agreed that there needed to be a focus on making affordable housing more accessible, especially in the 5th Ward.

Misty Witenberg, who is running for alderman against Carolyn Murray, Daniel Featherson, Robin Rue Simmons and Carlis Sutton, stressed economic development with protections to avoid raising taxes and rent hikes. She urged for increased tenant protection, which would allow people to stay in their homes if their landlords have to file for foreclosure.

In addition to protection for current homeowners, Murray said she plans to focus on ways to provide assistance on down payments and programs to guide first-time buyers. These programs are set up to help homeowners remain in their houses and in Evanston.

Featherson agreed with Murray and Witenberg on the importance of affordable housing, but said he would try to work on programs that were already in place.

“The city does offer a lot of programs where seniors can refinance and keep their homes,” Featherson said. “They do provide quite a few dollars, so I think getting the word out to people … and working with the mayor and the city government to keep taxes under control would be a big, beneficial help.”

The candidates also discussed lowering property taxes. Steve Hagerty, who is running for mayor against Ald. Mark Tendam (6th), Ald. Brian Miller (9th), Gary Gaspard and Jeff Smith (Weinberg ’77), said during the panel that he thinks property taxes are too high in Evanston. As a result, Hagerty said, people are having difficulties paying for a home in the city.

“You go around the city and you talk to people and you find people who love Evanston,” Hagerty said. “And you say, ‘Oh my gosh, what part of Evanston do you live in?’ And they say, ‘Well, actually I live in Rogers Park.’”

He urged for “smart and sensible” economic development, citing property taxes as something the city controls and that affects homeowners — especially young ones.

Tendam is the aldermanic representative on the Housing and Homelessness Commission. He said the commission started a fund that has now grown large enough to make use of in providing assistance for affordable housing. He stressed the importance of the city using its own funding ahead of uncertain federal funds to maintain its affordable housing.

Incumbent City Clerk Rodney Greene and Devon Reid, who is challenging Greene, were also at the forum. They both emphasized the city clerk’s role in providing information to citizens and working for them as a source of information and assistance.

Early voting begins on Feb. 13. A primary will be held for the mayoral and 5th Ward aldermanic election on Feb. 28, and the general election will be held in April.

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Twitter: @kristinakarisch