Aldermen request revision of landlord assistance program


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) speaks at a special City Council meeting on Monday. Aldermen at the meeting sent a landlord assistance program back to staff to be modified.

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

Aldermen asked city staff at a special City Council meeting on Monday to draft a revised proposal on a landlord rehabilitation assistance program that would provide funding to property owners who manage rental units at affordable rates.

The current proposal for the pilot program allows for participants to receive a maximum rebate of $50,000 — in the form of a forgivable loan — for the completion of their approved building improvement projects, according to city documents. To be eligible, landlords must have tenants who are initially at or below 60 percent of area median income.

Council sent the program — which would be funded with $200,000 of the currently uncommitted $800,000 in the city’s affordable housing fund — back to staff to be modified.

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) told The Daily it is already a barrier for landlords to obtain the money to make repairs and improve their units. She said if Council can fund the improvements upfront, it will be quicker for residents to get the renovations they need.

“The landlords that we’re talking about are moderate-income themselves, so they don’t have the money for the improvements (and) they can’t qualify for home improvement loans,” Rue Simmons said. “If we manage the funds — not necessarily just give them a check to do the work — we can have them provide the bids, and we will pay the contractors directly.”

The aldermen plan to vote on the revised version at the Feb. 26 council meeting, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said at the meeting.

Housing and Grants division manager Sarah Flax said the department will look to change the parts of the program that aldermen disagreed on. This included the types of improvements the program would fund and whether landlords would receive the money before or after the completion of the projects.

Landlords at the meeting expressed concern that the proposed program provided funding in the form of a loan and not a grant.

Tina Paden, a landlord at Paden Properties, said property owners who continue to provide affordable housing in Evanston want to see everyone get a fair chance at living in “a nice area with good schools.” She said landlords need grants, not loans, similar to the ones the city grants restaurants for improvements.

“The landlord assistant rehabilitation program is a joke, and it’s a loan again,” Paden said. “So if you want to continue to provide housing for the low income, then you need to help the landlords that are providing.”

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) also suggested the program place a cap on the number of times an owner can apply for funding to make more resources available for more landlords.

She added that though the proposal may not be right for everybody who needs assistance, it is a way for council to get more affordable units on the market.

“Nothing that we’re going to do is perfect and going to solve our problems tomorrow, but this is a great start,” Fleming said. “We have city funds that taxpayers give us so we … have to be very diligent about (how we spend them), so this is one way in which we’re trying to help.”

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