The topic of the latest video produced by the RoundTable in partnership with Burlingham Productions, posted on our website, is the City’s application for $40.6 million in federal neighborhood stabilization funds. The application presents a stark picture of the impact that the recession and the downturn in the housing market are having on two neighborhoods in Evanston.

Census tract 8092, bounded roughly by the canal, Church Street and Green Bay Road, is, according to the City’s application, “Evanston’s highest area of need,” having experienced “the highest percentage of foreclosure starts in the entire City over the last two years.” The housing there is mostly single-family structures, some converted to rental units containing one, two or three apartments. Foreclosure, according to the City, “has been initiated on 18.75 percent of all mortgages in this tract,” and, “as of March 2009, over 11 percent of the residential units in tract 8092 were vacant.” One block has six vacant or foreclosed homes; a number of other blocks have high numbers of vacant or foreclosed homes.

Housing in census tract 8102, bounded roughly by Asbury Avenue, Oakton Street, Chicago Avenue and Howard Street, is predominantly multi-family, with many large vintage courtyard buildings, as well as three-to-six flats. “As of March 2009, 6 percent of all residential units in Census tract 8102 were vacant,” says the City’s application. “From January 2008, to May 31, 2009, there have been almost 50 REO properties [properties taken over by banks] in the tract, and over 40 foreclosure filings.”

A concentration of foreclosures and vacant buildings in a neighborhood has an adverse impact on the neighborhood. It reduces property values; squatters can take over the buildings; the properties may not be properly maintained; it reduces the appeal of the neighborhood and the desire of people to buy there; it reduces investment in the neighborhood; it diminishes hope.

Condominium owners in a building with vacant or foreclosed units may face additional burdens, such as having to pick up an additional share of the buildings common expenses at a time when they may already be facing financial pressures.

The City has attempted to address some of these issues through requirements that vacant buildings be boarded up and by mowing lawns where the owners have failed to do so – obviously stop-gap measures, because the City lacks the resources to address the needs of these neighborhoods in a comprehensive way. The federal neighborhood stabilization funds would provide a unique opportunity to address the needs of these two neighborhoods.

Under the City’s proposal, the City would purchase 100 foreclosed and vacant housing units in the two neighborhoods, rehab the units, and then sell or rent them at affordable rates.

The City also proposes to purchase and redevelop vacant and blighted industrial property in west Evanston along Emerson Street with a 98-unit mixed-income community, offering apartments, townhomes, flats and single family homes. Fourteen of those units would be sold, the remaining rented. This would jump-start implementation of the West Evanston Master Plan that was approved by City Council in 2007.

The City proposes to carry out this proposal with Brinshore Development, a for-profit firm that specializes in the rehabilitation and new construction of affordable and mixed-income rental and for sale housing. Brinshore would raise additional funds for the development through loans.

The high foreclosure and vacancy rates, which leads to the destabilization of neighborhoods, is one of the most serious issues facing the community.

We commend the City on a thoughtful proposal to address these needs. Securing the federal neighborhood stabilization funds would enable the City to stabilize two neighborhoods on an unprecedented scale. It would also help to preserve affordable housing in our community, another pressing need.

Contact Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Senators Dick Durbin and Roland W. Burris and urge them to support this application.