City Council approves purchase of vacant 5th Ward properties to develop into affordable housing


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. City Council voted 8-1 Monday to purchase vacant properties in the 5th Ward to convert into an affordable housing development.

Saul Pink, Reporter

City Council voted 8-1 Monday to approve the purchase of boarded-up properties at 1917-25 Jackson Ave. and 1413-25 Emerson St. to develop into affordable housing. 

The city plans to demolish the 5th Ward properties and turn them into a “mixed income affordable housing residential development,” according to the city’s memo. The properties will cost a combined $1.675 million.

“People call us and say they need affordable housing or they’re gonna have to leave Evanston, and I feel helpless,” Ald. Bobby Burns (5th)  said. “This is an opportunity to go from what would have been 90% market price and 10% affordable to something that is affordable.”

Burns, who recommended the resolution, said there is no concrete plan to develop properties and the most important matter is getting control of the site.

Many 5th Ward residents said they support the purchase in public comment.

Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development Manager, wrote in a memo that the appearance of the vacant properties has “created a sense of urgency amongst neighbors.” 

2nd Ward resident Tina Paden, who lives just more than a quarter mile from the vacant properties, said she sees the proposal as the city continuing to gentrify her neighborhood.“While your aldermen are leading you to believe that they are anti-gentrification and anti-displacement, let their actions show you tonight,” Paden said. “I’m the only Black person left on my block at Emerson (Street) and East Railroad (Avenue).”

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st), the council’s sole dissenter on the vote, echoed Paden’s concerns about ensuring the new housing is affordable. She asked what percentage of the new units will go toward ownership, so residents can build wealth, and what percentage will be rented out.

Burns did not have an answer, emphasizing that the council needs to get control of the property first. 

“I just don’t want to see more developments going up where affordability is lost, and I think that it’s up to the community to decide,” Kelly said. “But I certainly hope that we will be moving in the direction of affordable units.”

Lesley Williams of the Community Alliance for Better Government expressed concern that there has been little communication with the neighborhood about the acquisition of the property. Zalmezak wrote in the memo to the council that Burns will initiate a “community engagement” process once the city executed the purchase.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said his great grandmother settled at 1419 Emerson Street, one of the vacant properties, in the late 1920s. Reid said he had thought of buying the property to raise his family there, but sees an affordable housing development as a fitting use of his family’s old home. 

“I can’t see a greater way to honor that legacy of many African Americans that moved to this community to work together to provide affordable housing for other folks who could not attain it,”  Reid said. 

The city recommends $1 million of the purchase come from the Affordable Housing Fund, while $675,000 will come from the West Evanston TIF Fund. TIF, which stands for Tax Increment Financing, is an approach cities use to fund projects and pay for them later using the anticipated increase in tax revenues the project will generate.

Kelly said residents need to know for certain that the money from the Affordable Housing Fund will actually go toward affordable housing, adding that she wants 80% of the housing to be affordable. 

Reid said all of Kelly’s concerns will be addressed once the city acquires the property.

“Name a time where the city has spent this much money to gain site control of this large of a parcel of land in the 5th Ward,” he said. “And then tell me if we aren’t doing something different and if we aren’t putting our money where our mouth is.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @saullpink

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