Q&A: Ald. Krissie Harris talks joining City Council, affordable housing solutions


Source: City of Evanston

Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) said finding solutions to Evanston’s lack of affordable housing is the biggest challenge the city faces.

Saul Pink, Assistant City Editor

Content warning: this story contains mentions of gun violence.

Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) is nearing the end of her second month on City Council. Mayor Daniel Biss appointed Harris in early September to fill a vacancy left by former Ald. Peter Braithwaite, who resigned in July.

The Daily sat down with Harris to discuss her background, transition into the seat and priorities as the 2nd Ward’s newest alderperson — from growing up as the daughter of Evanston Township High School’s principal to finding solutions for Evanston’s affordable housing crisis.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily: Why did you apply for the 2nd Ward vacancy?

Harris: My daughter graduated college this year and was shot in an attempted carjacking in downtown Chicago on the day before Father’s Day. Anger and all of those things hit me. I was like, ‘I gotta do something other than be mad.’ Peter’s vacancy popped up. I talked to my family and they were like ‘Oh, we might be in a really bad place right now.’ And my daughter’s like, ‘Nope, do it.’ We can get the story out and get people better connected because I think that’s where part of the violence comes from.

Mayor Biss sent out information on how to apply, and the date of the appointment was my deceased stepfather’s birthday. I was like, ‘You couldn’t have sent a better sign.’ If I don’t win, that’s fine. But I will have done what I believe I was directed to do. 

The Daily: Your mom was the principal of ETHS and assistant superintendent for District 202. How did growing up as the daughter of a local leader shape your outlook for taking on this role?

Harris: As a kid, you don’t always appreciate what your parents are trying to show you. But when it clicked, it clicked. My mom has always been engaged in the community. She started as a teacher and rose through the ranks. But she always taught her family that giving back was very important. My mom was considered the mom of many kids because she was a principal and had them as students. She raised the community. Being servant leaders has always been something that our family has participated in, before we even understood what that was.

The Daily: It’s been about a month and a half since you were sworn in. What has it been like starting a new job?

Harris: Coming in was fantastic, but a honeymoon. I knew that everybody was excited for a new face. But now I’m getting those emails — citizens are concerned and reaching out having questions and requests. I was like, ‘Here we go, the honeymoon’s over!’ So it’s still good, but now we’re married, right? 

The Daily: What do you see as the biggest challenge the 2nd Ward faces, and what’s the best way to address it?

Harris: I have to make it a little more global than just the 2nd Ward because while we’re nine wards, we’re one community. I think affordable housing is the most pressing issue. I was raised in Evanston, and people are now being priced out. They can’t stay here and raise their families. I think the more that we can invest in having generational families here of all colors, of all creeds, of all nationalities, of all sexualities, the better it is. 

The Daily: How can Evanston make that happen?

Harris: Creating spaces in which people can afford housing. So that’s looking at properties that are vacant, as Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) did in the 5th Ward. One thing that I need to pay a little more attention to is places that say they’ll have, say, six units that are affordable, and then they don’t fill them and pay the required fine. No, I want them filled. I don’t want you to pay the fine. 

The Daily: The proposed $402.5 million budget has led to various concerns and garnered opposition from Biss. What do you think about the budget?

Harris: At the end of the day, I’m a resident too. I gotta pay these taxes, and so do my (fellow) councilmembers. So we’re concerned. The city manager, at my ward meeting last Thursday, came back with a flat budget where we don’t have to raise taxes unless we decide to work on that (police and fire pension debt), which is something that we really have to think about. And I think people could get behind that, if we say we have to increase the property tax levy to make sure we take care of these pensions and get out of the red.

The Daily: Do you plan on running to keep your seat in the April 2023 special election?

Harris: I sure do! This is the first time I’ve ever run any kind of campaign, so it’s a little nerve wracking. I want the community to make the decision on who they think would best represent the ward, so I think it’s gonna be an exciting time to see the election in April.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @saullpink

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