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Earlier this month, City officials escorted Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky around a west side area that they hope to see transformed into a 67-unit residential complex for Evanston residents of various income levels. Representative Schakowsky’s walking tour was designed to demonstrate the need for and the extent of the project.

City officials, including Delores Holmes, alderman of the Fifth Ward where the project would be constructed, showed the Congresswoman the raw site of Emerson Square. The City has applied for a competitive federal grant of $2.5 million for the project and offered Rep. Schakowsky the tour in hopes that she would advocate for Evanston to receive the grant.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Aldermen Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, and Jane Grover, 7th Ward, also took the tour.

The $29 million project, immediately south and east of Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, would include 61 rental units – townhomes and apartments – and six single-family homes, said Peter Levavi of Brinshore Development. About 90 percent of the units would be rented at affordable rates, he said, and about 10 percent would be market-rate.

Dennis Marino of the City’s department of community and economic development said this project fits in with the West Side Master Plan, crafted by residents and property owners through months of community meetings and approved by City Council in 2007.

Financing

To finance the project, the City has put together a $26 million package of potential sources of financing that includes $1.7 million from the West Evanston tax-increment financing (TIF) district (pending Council approval), $11 million from low-income-housing tax credits, $1.8 million from the NSP2 grant, about $12 million from other sources, and, the City hopes, the $2.5 million federal funds.

The City had applied for $41 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 (NSP2) funds, which would have allowed it to proceed with two separate affordable-housing projects: the construction of the Emerson Square project and the purchase, rehab and putting up for sale of 100 vacant and foreclosed homes in the Fifth and Eighth Wards (see sidebar).

The City, however, received a grant for $18 million of the $41 million requested. It must first purchase and rehab the 100 homes before it can spend any money on new construction, said Mr. Marino. City officials estimate that about $1.8 million will be available for use on the Emerson Square project after the existing homes have been purchased and rehabbed.

Mr. Marino said any NSP2 funds used for Emerson Square would be amounts remaining from the $18.1 million grant after 100 vacant or foreclosed homes had been purchased.

If the financing comes through, construction on the project could begin early next spring, Mr. Levavi said. He added that Brinshore has found Evanston to be a good place to work because “City staff is so helpful and so competent and the community is so engaged.”

The Space and the Design

The site of the Emerson Square project comprises several parcels on the block between Jackson and Dewey avenues and between Foster and Emerson streets, excluding Jacob Blake Manor, the residential housing on the east side of Dewey Avenue and the west side of Jackson Avenue.

It is bisected diagonally northeast to southwest by Robinson Rentals, principally a block-long parking lot. Emerson Square would incorporate some of the principles of “new urbanism,” said Mr. Laveri: a compact residential development with an emphasis on pedestrian-friendliness and located near public transportation. “It’s ‘back to the future,’” he said. “People used to know how to build great neighborhoods. We try to improve what’s already there, because people feel a connection to it,” he added.

A conceptual plan of the project shows the residential units clustered around a park – the Gilbert Park Tot Lot renovated and relocated from its present site on Emerson Street. A section of Florence Avenue would be cut north of Emerson Street and would wind through the development up to Foster Avenue, where it would merge with, or become, Ashland Avenue.

The units themselves will have some sustainable elements, Mr. Levavi said, such as Energy Star appliances, and Brinshore plans to meet certain requirements for certification by at least sustainability-rating agencies.

Need for the Project

Before the group began the walking tour, Mayor Tisdahl noted the importance of the NSP2 grant as well as the potential receipt of the $2.5 million grant. As with the purchase-and-rehab portion of the NSP2 project, Brinshore Partners would be the project manager for Emerson Square, she said. “This is a very important moment for the City of Evanston. We are grateful for the NSP2 funds,” Mayor Tisdahl added. She noted that Brinshore has already hired Evanstonians to work on the purchase-and-rehab project, and Mr. Levavi said the company “is committed to hiring Evanston residents” for the Emerson Square project as well.

“We’re very excited about this application [for the $2.5 million federal grant] and for what it will do for the community of Evanston,” Mayor Tisdahl added.

Ald. Holmes said she was excited to show Rep. Schakowsky what had been accomplished in the 1900 block of Jackson, where calls for emergency services had been reduced by 98 percent over the past year through City and community efforts. “We’re excited to show you what we’ve done – and, more – what needs to be done,” she said.

After the walking tour, Rep. Schakowsky said, “You can kind of squint and see the potential and the design and realize what a tremendous, uplifting project this can be – not just the jobs but [in other ways for] the community. … This is the kind of project that stimulates economic growth. When we’re in a recession, this kind of public spending equals deficit reduction. … One hallmark of this community is its diversity. I’m proud to live in a town like that that wants to puts its energy into affordable housing. I will support this project.”

The Congresswoman also congratulated City officials for their leadership in applying for the grant – the application was put together by the same team that submitted the NSP2 grant – and said, “The City has a good track record.”

Evanston/Brinshore

Last year, the City of Evanston applied for $41 million in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP2) funds to address the ravages of the foreclosure epidemic in two specific census tracts in Evanston, one in the Eighth Ward and one in the Fifth Wards. One part of the proposed project was to purchase and rehab 100 vacant and foreclosed properties in these two areas and to return them to the market at affordable prices. A second part was to construct a new residential project along Emerson Street between Jackson and Dewey avenues.

Earlier this year, the City received $18.1 million in NSP2 funds with several strings attached. One string was that the City was required to use those funds first for the purchase and rehab of the 100 existing properties. The remaining funds could be used for the Emerson Square project. City officials estimate that the remaining amount will be about $1.7 million, which they have allocated to the Emerson Square project.

The team that submitted the application for this $2.5 million competitive federal grant is same team from the City’s department of community and economic development that submitted the successful application for the NSP2 grant.

One condition of both grants was that the City choose a private partner to oversee the projects. The City selected Brinshore Development because of its track record with affordable-housing projects.

While Brinshore will be the project manager on both the purchase-and-rehab and the new construction (Emerson Square) projects, the company has committed to hiring Evanston companies as subcontractors and Evanston residents as individual employees on both projects to the extent possible.

In a memo dated Sept. 7, Martin Lyons and Dennis Marino of the City’s department of community and economic development said Brinshore has 22 properties “”under site control,”” which will “”be 35 units post rehabilitation and construction. The memo also said that the City’s goal is “”that at least 25 percent (approximately $4.5 million) of the NSP2 grant would go to minority- or women-owned or Evanston-based businesses.”” The memo also stated that HUD require a percentage of the work be given to businesses and low-income residents in the NSP2 target areas.