City council introduces ordinance to sell 5th ward property to the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation


Daily file photo by Katie Chen

City council approved the sale of city-owned property on Church Street to the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation.

Cole Reynolds, Print Managing Editor

City Council voted 6-1 Monday night to introduce an ordinance to sell city-owned land to the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation. The ordinance will be up for action at the City Council meeting on June 26.

The move sets the foundation for a 33-unit affordable housing complex in the 5th Ward. City Council originally paved the way for the housing complex in mid-April, when it approved special-use permits for HODC and local church Mt. Pisgah Ministry Inc.

If the ordinance is ultimately adopted, the city will sell the lot, located on Church Street, to HODC for $1. 

The transaction is made more complicated by a land swap that will precede the sale. Currently, the city owns property on the corner of Church Street and Darrow Avenue, with Mt. Pisgah owning the adjacent property on Church Street. The city would swap equally-sized parcels of land with Mt. Pisgah, such that the church will own a corner lot and the city an inner lot, which it would then sell to HODC.

The proposed complex has attracted scrutiny from residents and elected officials as it moves through Evanston’s legislative process, particularly since Evanston Police found a man in a state of partial decomposition at another HODC property in February.  

Over the past three months, opponents of the project have questioned the ability of HODC to manage the property and the density of affordable housing in the 5th Ward.

Some opponents of the project voiced similar concerns on Monday night.

Evanston residents Carlis Sutton and Xiomara Chambers said they think there are plenty of affordable housing units in the 5th Ward and the city should put affordable housing in other areas of the city.

“You should have discussed the amount of money wasted on this development instead of providing ownership for 5th Ward residents who have already enough housing programs but need programs on attaining generational wealth,” Sutton said at the Planning and Development meeting ahead of the City Council meeting.

During the committee meeting, Connections for the Homeless manager Sue Loellbach said the city is always in need of affordable units and should construct them wherever there is space.

During the committee meeting, Ald. Clare Kelly (1st), the only committee member who voted against sending the ordinance to council, said she worried that there would be a vacant lot left if HODC was unable to finance the housing project. Citing a lack of financial feasibility study, Sutton echoed Kelly’s concerns during the council meeting.

Kelly also brought up concerns over the toxic soil at the corner lot, which used to be a gas station. Kelly said the lot was recommended for industrial uses by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. However, Community Development Manager Sarah Flax read the agency’s report aloud, which said the property was viable for both residential and industrial uses.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) — whose ward contains the housing project — said many of the common concerns brought up by opponents are inaccurate. He said he will send a newsletter addressing each of the concerns “line by line” after city council approves the project.

“To anyone that is concerned about this particular project, please feel free to reach out to myself or city staff if you have any questions about it,” Burns said. “Every time this comes up, at least 90% of what I hear is just not accurate.”

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