City Council approves loans, holds land sale for Church Street affordable housing complex


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 stopped short of greenlighting a planned housing complex on Church Street Monday night, holding a sale of land but granting loans to the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation.

The council considered three actions: swapping a portion of the city’s property with the church, Mt. Pisgah Ministries, Inc, approving a sale of this new property — located just off the corner of Church Street and Darrow Ave — to the HODC for $1, and giving HODC, the group behind the project, loans totaling $4 million.

It approved the loans 6-1. However, the council did not finalize the swap or the sale of the Church Street property, holding both items until its July 10 meeting in a 2-5 vote.

The HODC’s 2,200-square-foot development is set to have 33 units, 32 of which would be rent-controlled. Five of those units would be priced according to 30% of the area’s median income, whilst nine units would use 50% of the area’s median income to determine rent and utilities. The remaining 18 units would be priced to align with 60% of the median income.

The project, located in the 5th ward, had come under scrutiny after a man was found in a partial state of decomposition in February at the Claridge Apartments, another HODC-owned property.

“(The death) has always represented the attitude that low income people, as long as we give them housing, as long as we find a place to stick them, that’s all we need to do,” said Evanston resident Lesley Williams. “I think it’s a shame that that seems to be our attitude.”

The incident has led some to question HODC’s management capability for the proposed development on Church Street.

“HODC has said many times that (the Claridge) is their one problem unit, that they have not had such problems anyplace else,” Williams said. “They are still responsible for this unit, even if all of their other properties are fine. They seem to feel that that enables them to shirk their responsibility for what’s going on with the Claridge.”

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) said these concerns compelled her to hold the sale of property and the land swap, a move seconded by Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th). Kelly said that the Church Street project was a point of leverage that the city should use to force HODC to improve the Claridge property.

Kelly said that she would like around-the-clock security at the Claridge for the next couple of months, with a lower threshold of security after that. 

“We need to see these specific changes with specific language,” Kelly said. “ Let’s get this right. This has been such a problem for the 3rd and the 1st ward. This is our opportunity.” 

However, some council members said the council shouldn’t use concerns about the Claridge to stall the Church Street project. 

“I do think it’s inappropriate for us to take two separate issues and conflate them and use this project and this funding as a bludgeon against another issue,” said Ald. Devon Reid (8th), who introduced a failed motion to overturn Kelly’s hold on the property sale. “I think it’s inappropriate to hold this.”

Reid also questioned what purpose holding the items for an extra two weeks will serve. He said that HODC, a nonprofit, doesn’t have the budget to provide Kelly’s requested level of security and said he expects the hold to be fruitless. Kelly said that holding the items will give her time for “negotiation.”

Despite the hold, the council did choose to issue $4 million in loans to the HODC. The loans City Council approved Monday night will come from four different funding sources: $1.25 million from the Affordable Housing Fund, $1 million of West Evanston Tax Increment Financing, $1.5 million from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funding and $250,000 from the HOME fund. 

During the meeting, City Council adjusted the funding, at Ald. Krissie Harris’s (2nd) request. It saved $500,000 from the TIF fund, replacing it with an additional $250,000 from the Affordable Housing Fund and $250,000 from the HOME fund. Harris said she needed to save TIF money to fund projects in the 2nd ward. 

Some of the funding functions less like loans more like regulation to ensure the Church Street complex stays affordable for the long term. For example, the HODC will repay the first two loans if it fails to keep the complex affordable following a 30-year affordability period set by other financiers of the project.

“We can’t just rely on the federal government or wait for some magic to happen,” Reid said. “We have to have skin in the game, and this is that.”

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Twitter: @charcole27

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