City hosts panel of experts to discuss affordable housing strategies


Clare Proctor/The Daily Northwestern

Al Weel and Collete English Dixon listen to audience questions at a housing panel. The panel discussed different approaches for sustaining affordable housing.

Clare Proctor, Reporter

A group of housing experts discussed different approaches to maintaining affordable housing in Evanston at a panel presentation Wednesday.

The panel, hosted by the city, featured Al Weel, senior vice president of commercial real estate at Wintrust Bank; Tim Klont, vice president and manager of the community investment programs at Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago; and Mark Müller, president of Fulton Developers.

Collete English Dixon, executive director of the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate at Roosevelt University, moderated the panel, which was held at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.

Dixon said affordable housing means a household pays less than or equal to 30 percent of its income for housing costs.

“Affordable units tend to be disadvantaged in their maintenance and in their location because there is not a lot of incremental money available to operate them,” Dixon said.

She said having affordable rent costs decreases the cash flow available for developers to begin paying off initial debts from building these developments.

Muller discussed his inclusionary housing developments — a combination of market rate units and affordable housing units — in the Highland Park area.

“In most markets that have high costs, there’s very little affordable housing, but there is a great need for it,” Muller said. “(Affordable housing is) a benefit for community.”

Muller added that cities must offer benefits to incentivize developers to build affordable housing, such as density bonuses, which allow developers to build more units than regularly allowed in a zone, he said.

Additional incentives include allowing additional height and units to be built into a development, Muller said.

“Our staff and some aldermen probably would be very agreeable to allowing additional height or additional units, et cetera,” said Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), who attended the panel presentation. “However, our community is very conservative when it comes to additional height, additional units.”

Rainey said this disagreement causes problems in terms of offering incentives to developers.

Evanston resident Meg Welch told The Daily that aldermen need to “scrutinize” every affordable housing proposal, especially in regard to the balance of public and private financing of these developments, she said.

“We’re just not going to get what we need from completely privately financed developments,” Welch said.

She said the city needs to be more explicit about agreed upon criteria for what to accept when development proposals deviate from inclusionary housing standards.

Klont said there need to be affordable housing subsidies, both for development and operating, so that building affordable housing units makes economic sense for developers.

“What doesn’t benefit any of us is squeezing some of these affordable housing developers so thin that maybe they can get it built, but then three years later, they can’t afford to keep the lights on,” Klont said.

He added that it is important to ensure “long-term financial feasibility” in affordable housing developments.

With all these things being considered in building affordable housing, Dixon said the community needs to be willing to adapt.

“If you don’t have community capacity to be flexible in how you have to maybe make a few adjustments in order to accommodate the delivery of a product, you actually wind up just kind of talking to yourself,” Dixon said.

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