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Word spread rapidly around the Civic Center on Jan. 14 that Evanston was awarded $18 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The funds are part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Evanston is one of only two Illinois municipalities to receive NSP funds – the other is the City of Chicago – although four other Illinois entities received grants, said City Planner Dennis Marino. The application, submitted several months ago, requested $41 million for two projects for the City. The first is the purchase and rehab of 108 foreclosed and vacant properties in the Fifth and Eighth wards, on the City’s south and west sides, respectively, returning them to the market for sale or rent at affordable rates, according to the application.

The second aspect is the creation of Emerson Square, with rental and for-sale homes with a variety of building types, along Emerson Street. The City will partner with Brinshore Partners, a developer of affordable housing in other parts of the Chicago area, Highland Park among them.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl told the RoundTable. “The grant is wonderful for this community. It will preserve what we love most about Evanston – the diversity of the people. … I was concerned about our citizens, about the many foreclosures and whether people would be able to stay here. The staff did an excellent job on the application.”

Ms. Tisdahl said she had solicited support for the project from both Senator Dick Durbin and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. “They went to bat for us. … They were extremely helpful because they thought it was a good application.” She also said Senator Roland Burris wrote a letter of support for the application, which, she said, “contributed to the City’s obtaining the grant.”

“I am thrilled; it’s very exciting,” Mr. Marino told the RoundTable. “The grant award was about 45 percent of what we had asked for [$41 million]. … The need is great in those two census tracts [on the south and west sides]. This will stimulate the neighborhood economy.”

The two census tracts that are the targets of the NSP grant are in the Fifth and Eighth wards. Both Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, were elated by the news.

“My heart jumped for joy,” Ald. Holmes told the RoundTable. “It’s such a wonderful thing to happen. … You feel so heavy with everything happening in the world. This is a bit of brightness.”

Ald. Rainey said she had been mentally prepared to hear that the City had not received any money. “When I heard we had $18 million, I was just so pleased. … We have so many issues that that money can address. … If the $18 million were divided in half, that money would resolve all the foreclosure problems in my ward,” she said.

Ald. Rainey added that she felt two things were responsible for Evanston’s receiving the HUD grant: “The staff prepared a great application – and Liz [Mayor Tisdahl] went to Washington and did the final work.”

In a prepared statement, Ms. Schakowsky said, “Foreclosures remain a problem nationwide.  According to the Chicago Rehab Network, in my district alone nearly 3,000 families had their homes foreclosed in 2009.  These grants will prevent many of those homes from sitting vacant and instead allow them to be redeveloped into affordable housing, meeting an urgent need in our community.”

Ms. Tisdahl also told the RoundTable, “We will spend the money wisely – once the mayor quits dancing on the ceiling.”

Because the City did not receive the full amount of funding, City staff have not yet formalized how they will proceed or if and from where they will seek other funding. Nor had they heard whether HUD will direct where the funds will be spent.