Housing and Homeless Commission looks for greater role in city decision-making, struggles to define role


Andres Correa/The Daily Northwestern

Members of the Evanston Housing and Homeless Commission discuss a new draft for the city’s Affordable Housing Fund. The draft outlined the commission’s role with affordable housing, as well as the fund’s priorities

Andres Correa, Reporter

The Evanston Housing and Homeless Commission discussed a new draft for the city’s Affordable Housing Fund at a meeting on Thursday, seeking greater say in the city’s authority to allocate the fund’s spending.

The draft begins to outline the role of the commission and the priorities of the fund. It also proposes that use of the Affordable Housing Fund require a favorable recommendation from the commission, in addition to approval from the appropriate city committee and City Council, which is already necessary.

However, Savannah Clement, the city’s housing policy and planning analyst, said the commission’s proposal was a “‘non-starter.”’

“Unfortunately, there are just situations that come up where things have to go to council,” Clements said. “We don’t have time to bring it here. The city manager has the authority to make budget line items for the fund.”

The fund aims to increase affordable housing in Evanston by financing efforts like new housing.

Clement said she understands the commission’s frustrations with its role in city decision-making, but she said the group cannot take power away from elected officials.

Members also discussed the priorities of how the Affordable Housing Fund is allocated because income alone is not always an accurate measure of need for housing funds. Some people receive federal assistance based on their income levels, and others, including the homeless, may have no reportable income, commission member Renee Phillips said.

The commission considered increasing flexibility in how the city allocates funds for residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds. However, the commission did not finalize a plan for how to distribute funds because members felt more research was needed to identify the community’s needs.

The commission also voted on leadership positions for the group, voting unanimously to appoint Larry Donoghue and Monika Bobo as chair and vice-chair, respectively.

Evanston resident Sue Carlson said the commission is doing its best to define its role in the city. It was frustrating, she said, that the group couldn’t completely define their role because other city committees seem to already be working on issues of affordable housing and homelessness.

“When change is happening or you want things to be more clear, it has some frustration elements to it,” Carlson said.

Since the commission makes non-binding advisory rulings, Carlson said the city has the ability to bypass these recommendations.

The group had originally planned to discuss its bylaws, but commission chair Ellen Cushing said the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee, which met for the first time in February, is set to address these regulations at a future meeting.

The Housing and Homelessness Commission decided to bypass the action item.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th), who sits on the commission, said members need to be attentive to the work of the steering committee concerning affordable housing. She said she doesn’t want the commission to address issues already being handled by the committee.

This is an opportunity, she added, for the commission to increase its understanding of the issue of homelessness in Evanston.

“We’re steeping ourselves in the Affordable Housing Fund numbers and needs,” Revelle said. “But I am way behind in homelessness needs.”

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