Last February, Senator Dick Durbin, right, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, center, visited the West Side area targeted by the 8 million NSP2 grant. Dennis Marino, left, and Sarah Flax, background, submitted the NSP2 grant on behalf of the City.

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A report from Community Development Director Lehman Walker at the March 22 City Council meeting outlined the City’s affordable housing strategy and work plan for 2010. City Council selected affordable housing as one of its goals for this year. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the City Council had asked staff to review the report and recommendations of the year-long Task Force on Homelessness and “come up with a plan for implementation.”

“We have identified very simple steps,” Mr. Walker told the Council. The plan sets forth nine priority programmatic areas and five potential initiatives. The centerpiece of the plan is to administer the $18 million federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP2) grant and the three-year $800,000 Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) grant. Other aspects include seeking additional federal funds as well as private partners to help rehab foreclosed properties and continuing some programs and services and evaluating others.

NSP and HPRP and Other Funding

HPRP funds target persons at risk or on the verge of losing their homes to foreclosure and thus are available to eligible residents regardless of where in Evanston they live. NSP2 funds address the impact on a neighborhood of foreclosed and vacant properties; the City received the NSP2 funding to purchase and rehab 100 foreclosed properties in two census tracts on the south and west sides of the City and return them to the market as affordable housing.

The City had requested $41 million in NSP funds, not only for the purchase and rehab of the foreclosed units, but also to create an affordable residential complex – of mixed types of units – on Emerson Street just a few blocks west of Green Bay Road (the Bishop Freeman site). The grant, however, was given only for the purchase-and-rehab part of the project, not for the new construction.

In implementing the NSP2 project, the City has chosen Brinshore Development as its private development partner. The City is seeking local contractors for some of the subcontracting work and held an informational meeting about the project scheduled for last night at the Civic Center.

To address foreclosed properties outside the two NSP2-targeted census tracts, Mr. Walker said the City will seek ways to leverage private sector-funding and HOME funds, or otherwise develop a rental rehab program. Following a recommendation by the task force, City staff will seek to resuscitate the City’s relationship with Habitat for Humanity to help provide affordable housing options here.

The City’s next three strategies are the continuation of the down-payment assistance, foreclosure assistance and homelessness prevention programs. Monitoring foreclosure data, continuing training workshops for condo owners and associations, and the continuation of current rehab projects under the Community Development Block Grant Revolving Loan Fund round out the priorities.Evaluations Proposed

Some City-sponsored or City-funded programs and services will be evaluated by City staff, Mr. Walker said, to determine the impact of each: the Families In Transition program administered by Connections, under which homeless or at-risk families are helped in making the transition back to autonomous living; the City’s down-payment assistance program; and the inclusionary zoning ordinance.

At least five Community Housing Development Organization have developed affordable housing within the City, using federal grants administered by the City. They will receive closer scrutiny by City staff, Mr. Walker said. “I am of the opinion that we should take a hard look at the
CHDOS. … We have too many. We need to evaluate them and come up with perhaps one or two to provide that service.”

Mr. Walker said the housing page on the City’s website would be redeveloped in the early fall. In answer to a question from Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, he said residents within the NSP2 target areas would learn about the availability of affordable housing through community meetings; others would be able to obtain this information principally from the City’s website.

Response

Aldermen accepted Mr. Walker’s plan unanimously and without comment.

During citizen comment, Susan Munro, who chaired the year-long Task Force on Homelessness, said that while City staff had made a good start, the task force was disappointed the plan did not include “a more fleshed-out implementation plan. This [the three-page staff report] does not tell us much here.”

In a separate interview with the RoundTable, Ms. Munro voiced two main objections to the City’s plan: First, she said, the recommendation to “explore opportunities for using HOME funds more effectively” and to evaluate Connections’ Families in Transition program essentially duplicated the work of the task force. Second, she said she felt the strategies did not place enough emphasis on rental housing – a linchpin of the task force report.

Ms. Munro said the City should address the gap between rental housing stock in Evanston and “what families can afford to pay,” and suggested “shifting HOME funds away from home ownership and to rental units.” She added, “We [the Task Force on Homelessness] would like to see a commitment [from the City] that some of the newly foreclosed housing be turned into [affordable rentals].”

Ms. Munro said she would advise creating a rent-subsidy program rather than focusing so many resources on home-ownership programs. Referring specifically to the City’s rental rehab program, she said it does not directly address affordability, because there is no rental subsidy to make the unit affordable.

She also said, “No one has spoken about the large condo projects in foreclosure [Grand Bend at Emerson Street and Green Bay Road and Sienna, bounded by Ridge and Oak avenues and Church and Clark streets].”

Mr. Walker told the RoundTable he respected the work of the task force. “I agree that rental housing is important and much needed in the City of Evanston,” he said. He added that he believed an emphasis on rental housing and other strategies could be included in the plan.