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Srivastava: Evanston inclusionary housing cannot stop at simply adding units

Heena Srivastava, Op-Ed Contributor

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During the last week, the Chicago Housing Authority has begun implementing a long-delayed initiative for inclusionary housing in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville according to WBEZ. The second installment to the Oakwood Shores project would offer housing for residents earning 15 to 60 percent of the area’s median income. The CHA’s mixed-income development plans date back to 1999. However, less than a third of the planned 3,000 affordable units were constructed, as the economic crisis of 2008 ultimately prevented its fruition.

Now, it’s time to build the affordable units that were promised nearly 20 years ago.

Inclusionary housing ordinances and policies have been established throughout nearly 27 states across the country. In San Mateo, California, all housing developments of 11 units or more need to reserve specific percentages of their units for affordable housing. Here in Evanston, some new developments have had also percent requirements.

Some inclusionary housing initiatives directly build new affordable buildings, while others may focus on passing an ordinance dictating a certain percentage of real estate be affordable for low- and middle-income households. Either way, these initiatives can help improve the quality of life for often-disenfranchised populations.

The developments in Bronzeville should be celebrated. Some residents, however, have acknowledged that successful inclusion requires more than just placing together households of different incomes. By bringing together different incomes, the CHA brings together different backgrounds. And by doing so without means of cultural consolidation, the CHA brings about potential for controversy — as mixed-income units have in the past. As a result, these inclusionary housing initiatives can often become less like effective fixes, and more like doors to further issues. Segregation and discrimination don’t stop simply by connecting people of varying incomes in developments. Rather, the CHA must learn to facilitate connecting different cultures and backgrounds.

Bronzeville seems to have come close to accomplishing this task. By developing a neighborhood Mariano’s and fervently hosting community events, the area has begun to form a path where empathy and understanding of different backgrounds within residents can potentially be fostered. Obviously everything doesn’t change overnight, but these targeted developments can provide opportunities for Bronzeville residents to get to know and understand one another.

Evanston’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, which became effective in 2016, sets requirements for city housing developers. It caters to residents in a range of brackets within Evanston’s average median income. While the higher percentage bracket requirements don’t necessarily help the most disadvantaged in the city, the plan represents a step toward integrating isolated populations. The ordinance explains how a deficiency in affordable housing will negatively affect employers who hope to maintain a local workforce and generally detriment the welfare of Evanston’s citizens.

While its intentions appear to be in the right place, to me, the plan falls flat when it comes to implementation. Evanston must take after the efforts seen in neighborhoods like Bronzeville. Rather than just making people neighbors, the city must make a focused effort to actually integrate residents. Downtown Evanston is a great area, but may be remote to some affordable units further away. This integration can come in the form of spreading where local businesses are located. Programming can be sponsored in the more remote housing complexes to encourage community building and inclusion in all corners of the city. The city must take into account its commitment to diversity as it puts in effort to develop affordable housing.

Heena Srivastava is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at heenasrivastava2021@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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