Following Albion development’s approval, community leaders call for more affordable units


Daily file photo by Drew Gerber

Sarah Flax, Evanston’s housing and grants administrator, fields questions at an event. Flax said Albion’s fifteen units of affordable housing was “quite an accomplishment”.

Ryan Wangman, Development and Recruitment Editor

Local affordable housing community leaders said though City Council approved a new 15-story Sherman Avenue apartment tower, developments should be required to meet a minimum number of housing units without exceptions.

Aldermen voted 5-4 to approve construction of the Albion Residential building at the Nov. 13 City Council meeting, in a contentious decision that some say could set a new precedent for development in downtown Evanston.

Within the first half of next year, developers aim to break ground on the tower, which will include 15 units of affordable housing out of the total 273 units. According to city documents, nine units will be priced between 50 to 60 percent of the area median income and the other six will be priced at 80 percent AMI.

To comply with the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, developers have four options: make 10 percent of their total units affordable, give a fee-in-lieu payment, suggest an alternative equivalent proposal or petition for a reduction of the requirements.

Sue Loellbach, director of development at Connections for the Homeless — a nonprofit that works to help people achieve stable housing — said a plan for 15 affordable units isn’t ideal: The number was lower than the roughly 27 units that would have been created had Albion chosen the “10 percent” option. However, she said, there was “no way” Albion’s original proposal of a $2.9 million fee-in-lieu payment and two on-site affordable units would have resulted in the creation of as many units.

“The Albion development is something of an anomaly,” Loellbach said. “We’re in a new age here in Evanston where there will be pressure for every developer to do the full 10 percent (of affordable units on-site). In fact we’re advocating to change the ordinance so that it’s way stronger than it is right now.”

Ted Smukler, a senior organizer at Open Communities — a nonprofit that promotes housing, economic and social justice — said his organization was also not satisfied with the number of affordable housing units in the new building. He said the group would like to see a reform of the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance so that an in-lieu payment is no longer an option and more on-site units are built.

Ultimately, Smukler stressed that he wanted City Council to make the ordinance “stronger and more effective.”

The Albion development is the first to employ the alternative equivalent proposal allowed by the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, said Sarah Flax, the city’s housing and grants administrator.

Albion is one of three covered developments approved by City Council since the ordinance went into effect in January 2016. A 44-unit apartment building located at 824-828 Noyes St. met the 10 percent affordable-unit requirement and the 831 Emerson St. development elected to pay a $2.4 million fee-in-lieu to the city’s affordable housing fund.

Flax said community pressure to have on-site affordable units in the past year has intensified. However, she said making Albion meet the 10 percent affordable unit option would be financially infeasible. She added that if Albion increased the number of affordable units, the development would not have been built.

“Fifteen units in an area that is much more expensive than certain other areas to develop housing is quite an accomplishment,” she said. “It’s a numbers game.”

Still, many community members — including resident Meg Welch — who spoke at City Council throughout Albion’s approval process believed the development wasn’t complying with the ordinance, partially because it didn’t meet what they saw as a “required” 10 percent affordable unit option.

At the Nov. 13 council meeting, Welch said the community will remember how aldermen voted on the building, and that the tower will not solve Evanston’s financial problems.

“The Albion development is the Twinkie of affordable housing and the Twinkie of filling a budget gap,” Welch said, addressing aldermen. “It is going to not make you feel good after you vote for it.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Meg Welch’s name. The Daily regrets the error.

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