City Council approves building development on Sherman Ave


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Housing and grants division manager Sarah Flax. Flax says new development at 1900 Sherman Ave will exceed compliance with Evanston’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance

Julia Richardson, Reporter

Evanston City Council approved an ordinance that would allow for the construction of The Emerson, a 16-story residential building at 1900 Sherman Ave. during a Monday meeting. 

City Council’s approval of the ordinance amends the city’s zoning map and will effectively result in a rezoning of the property from a residential district to a commercial, mixed-use district. The building, which will be developed by the Housing Authority of Cook County, will include 168 residential units, 51 of which will qualify as affordable housing. It will also be constructed adjacent to the Jane R. Perlman Apartments, an 11-story affordable housing development for senior and disabled residents. 

The ordinance passed unanimously even though many Evanston residents have expressed disapproval of the project. One resident told The Daily before the meeting that they oppose the new development because it will  “impose” on the Perlman building, which is several stories shorter. The resident also said Perlman residents have not had a chance to voice their concerns, partially due to pressure to stay quiet.

During the meeting, Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) inquired about how much input the Perlman’s residents have been allowed throughout the process of planning for the new building. Richard Monocchio, executive director of HACC, said the organization has had several meetings with the residents.

“Everybody is fully aware in the building of what’s happening,” Monocchio said. “Is everybody in the building thrilled? Probably not, but certainly everybody seems very happy with their living conditions now, and at least to me, have expressed support for what we’re doing, providing more affordable housing in Evanston.”

Evanston’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance requires a certain number of units in a proposed dwelling unit to be affordably priced for residents earning low to moderate incomes. During the meeting, Sarah Flax, the city’s housing and grants division manager, said the building will exceed the number of affordable housing units required by the ordinance, because HACC is a public authority. 

Public funding through vouchers will make up for the funding disparity caused by the increased proportion of affordable housing apartments. While The Emerson is set to have 30 percent of its units priced at an affordable rate, a private developer likely would have pushed for a ratio closer to 10 percent of affordable units due to its return on investment, according to Larry Donoghue, chair of Evanston’s Housing and Homelessness Commission.

Seventeen of the building’s 51 affordable units will be listed at 80 to 120 percent of the area’s median income — a range sometimes referred to as “the missing middle,” which is often left out of affordable housing conversations. However, the Evanston resident told The Daily these units will not be as affordable as they are advertised to, leaving only 34 units to truly qualify as affordable housing.

“That middle income does not fit in [Evanston’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance], it doesn’t match any of the definitions,” the resident said. “They’re saying that a middle-income apartment would be $1,666, and what we’re hearing from local building owners is that people at an 80 percent AMI can’t afford that.”

Fleming acknowledged the concerns residents expressed, but ultimately said she supports the new development as a way to respond to Evanston’s high demand for affordable housing. She also emphasized that the building does not require additional funds from the city after its construction.

“We are not being asked to put any money into this development and it is going to provide 34 units… I don’t know where else we would get 34 units from,” Fleming said. “I don’t know that we have people to fill the middle market, I don’t know that we have people to fill… luxury or high-end development units in the building, but my concern is for the affordable units that we desperately need in town.”

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