Human Services Committee proposes subcommittee addressing housing displacement


Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Bobby Burns (2nd) speaks at City Council chambers. The proposed Here To Stay subcommittee would establish funding to support aspects of home ownership not previously supported by city grants, including down payments and house repairs.

Ilana Arougheti, Assistant City Editor

Mayor Daniel Biss and Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) proposed the creation of a Here To Stay subcommittee that would encourage housing retention in Evanston, especially in the 5th Ward. 

The subcommittee would support a number of programs and policies geared toward more affordable home ownership. Burns explained the proposal at a Human Services Committee meeting Monday night.

The subcommittee’s intent is to offset the ongoing threat of gentrification to future and continued home ownership among residents, Burns said — particularly in the city’s historically Black 5th Ward. 

Gentrification and housing accessibility in this area has been a hotly contested subject in community discussions and City Council public comment sessions during the last few weeks and months. Most recently, the issues have engulfed discussions of  a proposed Tax Increment Financing district which would divert property tax revenue in the 5th Ward for the next 23 years.

“We all, as elected officials and community members, would not like to see people displaced and want to find ways to keep people here,” Burns said. “But the barriers to staying in Evanston, when considering the cost of living here, (are) hard to navigate.”

The subcommittee would seek to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing in the city by supporting current owners, providing the funds necessary to maintain home repairs and navigate property tax hikes, according to Burns. The group would also continuously scan for any affordable housing units at risk of bankruptcy in order to purchase them before they enter the real estate market, preventing developers from repurposing the land. 

It would also devote time and resources to finding locations in Evanston that are already mostly dedicated to housing, as opposed to commercial land or nature, where vacant properties could be delegated as affordable housing projects funded by the city. Attempts to build these projects from scratch in less dense areas, sometimes in the form of larger multi-family homes, have been historically opposed by neighbors, Burns said. Vacant properties also pose their own challenges without some party clearly responsible for funding repairs.

The subcommittee would also encourage first-time home ownership in Evanston by establishing funds for other parts of the housing process beyond rent, like down payments, student loan forgiveness or home repairs. Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said prioritizing affordable home ownership resources for residents is extremely important. But he would like to see the committee focus on attracting new residents as well, including new families and employees at Northwestern. 

“Attracting new people is something you should pay attention to if building a strong community is the root goal of what you’re trying to do,” Braithewaite said.

The proposal, which will move to City Council for debate in the coming weeks, coincides with the ending of the Illinois eviction moratorium. In response, Burns posed a new policy meant to handle the wave of evictions which he expects to see in the coming weeks. 

Burns recommended that landlords be required to provide the city health and human services department with 30 days’ notice if they were planning to evict a tenant. Since the moratorium’s end, same-day evictions have already become a problem in the 5th Ward and other areas, he said.

“There’s not much that I can do, that our health department can do and that our community partners can do when it’s a same-day emergency situation,” Burns said. “So my thought was, what policy could we create to identify these evictions earlier so that we as a city…can create a plan for these individuals?”

Neither the subcommittee nor the policies will be put into place at this time. First, they’ll move to City Council for discussion, then for action, meaning a final decision on all proposals involved in the Here To Stay subcommittee is still weeks away. 

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) urged committee members to bring any input on further affordable housing policy ideas to Director of Health and Human Services Ike Ogbo, in order to make the policy as strong as possible by the time it gets to residents. 

“People are not going to eviction court right away because they’re backed up already, so that still gives us some time,” Fleming said. “(Committee members) have to make something that’s going to work.”

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