Commission discusses financial workshop, needs assessment report


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Ellen Cushing, chair of the Housing and Homelessness Commission, speaks at a meeting. During a commission meeting Thursday, members reviewed the city’s efforts to increase affordable housing.

Victoria Lee, Reporter

The Housing and Homelessness Commission reviewed the city’s efforts to increase affordable housing at a Thursday meeting at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.

Commissioners discussed the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance Subcommittee’s financial workshop coming up on May 30. They also discussed producing an affordable housing needs assessment report as part of the the city’s 2018 initiative of expanding affordable housing.

Evanston resident Tracy McKeithen told The Daily she came to the meeting because she wanted to stay informed on the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance Subcommittee’s current developments. McKeithen said the IHO has the potential to be more effective and needs to be updated.

“There could be specific guidelines to assist the very low-income people in the community,” McKeithen said. “So as developers are developing projects and new buildings, there are specific units set aside for those people that earn or have an income below 30 percent of the area’s median income.”

The IHO sets requirements for affordable housing units in new market rate developments, said Savannah Clement, a housing policy and planning analyst for the city. Developers have the option to provide affordable units on site, provide a fee-in-lieu payment, provide an alternative equivalent proposal or petition for a reduction of requirements. However, many developers have opted to pay the fee rather than offer affordable units, leading to a strong pushback from residents, Clement said.

The subcommittee is reviewing the ordinance and will look into revisions such as raising fees, enforcing on-site requirements or looking at additional revenue sources for the Affordable Housing Fund, Clement told The Daily.

She added that the subcommittee has already met twice but decided to postpone other meetings until after the financial workshop. The panelists in the workshop have experience in real estate, housing development and finance, and are meant to provide the subcommittee with guidance as they try to amend the IHO, Clement said.

“This will get everyone on the same page as to what really goes into the costs and financing of housing development,” Clement told The Daily.

Commission chair Ellen Cushing said the commission should come up with a concrete needs assessment report, which would evaluate the current affordable housing plans already in place — such as the 2009 Plan for Affordable Housing — and clearly define the city’s needs and resources available to better serve the commission’s goals.

Cushing said she will build off the city’s previous work to review and incorporate past research.

However, the commission should use its own needs assessment instead of depending on another organization’s, she told The Daily. Commission members will work together with staff, existing city task forces and other local organizations dedicated to affordable housing to compile their comprehensive assessment, Cushing said.

The needs assessment is scheduled to be finished by the end of this month, Cushing said.

During the public comment section, some audience members expressed their frustration with City Council’s attitude toward the affordable housing scarcity, accusing council of not prioritizing the issue. But Cushing said she commends the council for setting aside special meetings for affordable housing.

“Like most things in life, (affordable housing) is a process, and it’s not always the road that everyone would choose to go,” Cushing told The Daily. “But I think in the end, we’re all going to end up in the right place.”

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