It is nearly October and many Evanston contractors hoping to participate in a large, three-year affordable-housing project financed principally by federal funds are poised to hear if they will be hired.

The City received $18 million in Neighborhood Stabilization (NSP2) funds to address the large number of foreclosed and vacant homes in two census tracts in Evanston, one in the West Side’s Fifth Ward, the other in the South Side’s Eighth Ward. The funds are to be used for the purchase and rehab of 100 vacant and foreclosed homes, single-family or condominium units. After rehab, the units or homes will be sold at prices deemed affordable in accordance with guidelines established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

A second part of the project, to be financed with any remaining NSP2 funds, as well as low-income-housing tax credits and other grants, is the construction of Emerson Square, a new 60+ unit residential complex that would be built in the 1600 block of Emerson Street.

City officials said the application required the City to choose a private partner with a record of managing large projects, and the City selected Northbrook-based Brinshore Development. The company will be in charge of the acquisition of the properties to be rehabbed, serve as general contractor and manage the rental units for about 15 years.

Local Employment:
HUD and the City of Evanston

Under terms set by HUD and by the City of Evanston, there are two opportunities for eligible contractors to qualify to work on the project. First, under the City’s MWEBE ordinance, contractors who undertake projects using City money (and the NSP2 project qualifies) must try to subcontract 25 percent of the work to minority-owned, woman-owned or Evanston-based businesses. Dennis Marino, assistant director of community and economic development for the City, told the RoundTable that Brinshore has committed to “doing at least that amount.”

A second opportunity comes through a HUD requirement called “Section 3,” Sarah Flax, community development block grant administrator for the City, said. “Sectoin 3 employement is aimed at the target area. … It promotes area businesses in those two census trancts,” she said.

An indiviaual or a business with income less than 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) can apply to be certified as a Section 3 business or employee, Ms. Flax said. She added that Section 3 requires certification, and the City will help Evnston residents and buisensses with Section 3 certifiation. “Others have to go elseqwhere for their certification,” she said.

Concerns About ‘Fair Share’

At the Sept. 24 meeting of the Evanston Black Business Association several members said they were concerned that, even though many of them live in the target area, they might not be given employment.

EBBA member Bennett Johnson said he felt that black and local business owners would not be given their fair share of the work generated by the NSP2 grant even though “the Fifth Ward is 78 percent black, and the Eighth Ward is 50 percent black.”

Mr. Johnson also said EBBA members “asked the City Manager [Wally Bobkiewicz] if there would be a sharing of the $18 million. He sent us to Mayor [Elizabeth Tisdahl]. She got angry and refused to talk with us.”

Mayor Tisdahl, however, told the RoundTable, “I did meet with Bennett. We met for at least an hour. I did follow up and spoke with Brinshore, who then sent a letter listing positions already filled by Evanston residents.”

She added, “I have held several meetings with Bennett, [Fifth Ward Alderman] Delores [Holmes], [Second Ward Alderman] Lionel [Jean-Baptiste] and City staff. We all want to have many Evanston residents get jobs.” She said she would be “happy to meet with [Mr. Johnson] again.”

Ray Willis, the local director of HUD, told the RoundTable he had met with Mr. Johnson and discussed Section 3 employment opportunities.

Demonstration Possible

At the Sept. 24 meeting, Mr. Johnson outlined three things that EBBA wanted: a share in the ownership of the properties that will be rehabbed; an increase in the number of contractors at work on the project so it could be done in less than three years’ time; and giving local agents the sellers’ listings. “We have a chance to develop and share in the wealth,” he said.

Mayor Tisdahl told the RoundTable. “It is my understanding, having spoken with City staff and the City attorney, that those things are not possible.”

Mr. Johnson said he felt the next step would be a demonstration. EBBA president Robyn Rue said she felt that trying once more to meet with Brinshore or the City would be the better course.

Albert Bowen, who said he owns several properties in Evanston said, “It took a demonstration at 148 Clyde [Ave.] to get that property shut down.” He added that some of his properties are in danger, and he had “nothing to lose” by demonstrating.”

Although no formal vote was taken, the consensus favored a demonstration. At least one person said that if Brinshore were acting properly within the terms of the contract with HUD, the proper place for the demonstration would be the Civic Center.

Jesse McFadden, another EBBA member, told the RoundTable, “I’m a Christian, but we want our fair share.”

A group of some EBBA members and other community members was scheduled to meet at a local church last evening to plan details of the demonstration.

Meanwhile, Ms. Flax said, “The bid package is imminent. … We hoped we would have it sooner, but acquisitions are taking longer than we anticipated.”

The day before the EBBA meeting, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl was in Springfield, meeting with Senator Dick Durbin to try to get his support for the City’s recent application for a $2.5 million grant to assist in building the Emerson Square project. The City reported that Mayor Tisdahl said the Senator was “very interested” in the project and “pledged to provide his support of the application and the application.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...