Rapid Recap: City Council approves South Boulevard housing project


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. As the city finalizes the city manager process in the coming weeks, Evanston’s cohort of leaders new to politics continues to expand.

Aviva Bechky, Assistant City Editor

City Council authorized a proposal to develop a mixed-income housing project at 504-514 South Blvd. Monday night. 

The selected proposal has 41 units of family housing. Sarah Flax, the city’s housing and grants manager, said about 80% of the units will be priced at or below 60% of the average median income. About 18 apartments will use project-based voucher subsidies to provide housing to lower-income people.

The council voted 7-1 in favor of proceeding with real estate development firm PIRHL’s proposal. Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) voted no, and Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) was not present.

What context should I know here? 

City Council first considered repurposing the lot in 2019, but Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) requested a community process. In June, City Council approved an Intergovernmental Agreement with the Housing Authority of Cook County to jointly select a developer’s plan.

The proposal request required the development be mixed-income and provide housing for households at a variety of prices, including 30% to 100% of area median income. After reviewing proposals and interviewing top candidates, the search committee picked PIRHL’s proposal for the development. PIHRL narrowly edged out Reba Place Development Corporation, a local Evanston company.

What were the key points of debate? 

Advocates for the bill said it would help expand Evanston’s affordable housing.

Sue Loellbach, advocacy manager at Connections for the Homeless, said the organization was pleased to see this proposal go forward. However, she’d like to see 100% affordable housing in the building.

“It shows that it is possible we can create affordable housing,” Loellbach said. “We feel this is really an ideal use of city owned property and are really proud that the city is doing this. We urge the city to consider doing this with other properties.”

Opponents argued there was not enough public discussion. They also pointed out that parking spaces would be removed and expressed concern about environmental impacts and the loss of green spaces.

Evanston resident Brian Knowles, who said he lives across from the proposed project site, objected to the speed of the proposal and didn’t want to see the council approve it.

“​​I understand this point is likely to go through,” Knowles said. “We need better communication about what’s going on with the project, the process.”

Kelly was similarly critical over a lack of community input. In response, Wynne said she has met with community members over the last five years to discuss the project.

Several council members also questioned why PIRHL was chosen for the project over Reba. Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said in the future, he wanted to prioritize local connections.

“Local organizations, that’s not a part of the criteria, but I think it should be,” Reid said. “But again, we’re here now. I support this, but let’s look toward the future.”

What should I look out for in the future?

The Housing Authority of Cook County staff will present the proposal at their board of directors meeting in April. 

If the board approves, this will begin a public legislative process with community meetings to garner feedback. City Council will need to give final approval as well. In a memorandum from Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak, city staff estimated the process will take six to nine months.

The same document said PIRHL estimated construction to begin in spring 2023, with occupants able to move in around summer 2024. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

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