City Council tables new 5th Ward affordable housing project


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st). During Monday’s meeting, Kelly said she wanted to send the ordinance on the new affordable housing building back to the Land Use Commission but wasn’t able to get the support from any other councilmember.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

City Council voted unanimously Monday to table an ordinance that would approve the development of a mixed-use affordable housing building in the 5th Ward until its next meeting.

The development is a collaboration between local ministry Mt. Pisgah, currently located at the site, and the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation, a Skokie-based affordable housing developer. HODC plans to build affordable housing units on the church’s site, and Mt. Pisgah will relocate to a neighboring site. 

The proposed building is located on Church St., and the original plans proposed five stories. But the Planning & Development Committee voted to shrink plans for the building to four stories with fewer dwelling units and cut ground floor retail space significantly. 

During discussion, Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) said she opposes reducing retail space and overall units in the building.

“That is a drastic change from 44 to 33 units and also a drastic reduction in commercial space,” Kelly said. “An essential component when (the Land Use Commission) made their decision was the commercial space. We’ve now lost about 75% of that commercial space.”

The amended plan would cut the retail space on the ground floor from roughly 3,500 to 1,200 square feet.

Kelly said she also wants to see HODC improve conditions in their other properties before the council approves the new development. The developer manages the Claridge Apartments, which became the center of controversy after a body was removed from the building in February. The body was found more than two weeks after a tenant reported an odor to property management.

In response to Kelly’s concerns over HODC’s management of Claridge, Ald. Devon Reid (8th) asked if the city has evidence that the developer of the affordable housing sites engaged in the malpractice of providing substandard housing. Interim Director of Community Development Sarah Flax said city staff found no proof of malpractice after a routine inspection of the Claridge building.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said the council should not base its decision on allegations of mismanagement with one building.

“I have not found any evidence of chronic property management issues with HODC across their portfolio of buildings,” he added.

However, Burns said he is in support of additional retail space in the building. 

Flax told the council that staff could work with HODC on plans to expand the retail spaces from roughly 1,200 to 2,000 square feet with minor changes to the building. 

Burns proposed the ordinance be tabled until the next council meeting on April 10 to allow HODC and council staff to work on the new plan. The motion passed unanimously.

During public comment in Monday’s meeting, more than 15 residents raised concerns about the affordable housing project, primarily advocating for increased retail space and questioning HODC’s management capabilities.

Evanston resident Andrew McArdle said he is in opposition to the building’s amended plan to reduce retail space, in particular.

“This is the 5th Ward’s last and only available space for residents to have a coffee shop, a bookstore (or) a gym,” McArdle said. “By removing that retail space, they’re robbing the community of that opportunity.”

Allie Harned, another Evanston resident, agreed with Kelly, saying she thinks council should only approve the project if HODC agrees to improve their other properties — including the Claridge apartments.

“We are supportive of this affordable housing building especially if it serves low-income Evanston residents,” Harned said. “However, the city should ensure that such developments are well managed and in a way that keeps the residents safe.”

Still, several residents voiced their support for the project and advocated for additional affordable housing to address housing insecurity in the 5th Ward. 

Former Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said she wants residents who opposed the project to understand it is needed to address housing issues in the 5th Ward.

“Yes, we have issues. But you have those issues before you bought the property that you live there,” Holmes said. “Come and help us change those issues. Work with the aldermen, work with the people who are trying to make the neighborhood better.”

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