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There is good news on the NSP2 front.
More than a year ago, the City received a grant of $18 million under the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP2) to purchase and rehab about 100 foreclosed and vacant housing units in two specific areas of Evanston and to sell or rent them at affordable prices. The NSP2 program was designed to help revitalize communities destabilized by foreclosures in two ways: by converting vacant and foreclosed housing into livable and affordable homes and by putting local contractors to work.
At the July 18 City Council meeting, project manager Jolene Saul reported that 62 of the 100 housing units have been purchased, that two units will be ready to market next month and that 25 units will be coming to market in the next three to four months.
So far, $5.7 million of the $18 million has been spent.
In terms of hiring contractors to perform the rehab work, the City reported that one goal was to award a minimum of 25 percent of the work to firms owned by minorities or women or that are based in Evanston. Of the $1.6 million of subcontracts awarded to date, the City reported that 46 percent have been awarded to minorities, 36 percent to women-owned firms and 73 percent to Evanston-based firms.
In addition, 41 percent of the subcontracts have been awarded to firms owned by low-income firms or to firms that have a designated percent of employees who are low-income. The goal was a minimum of 10 percent.
We commend the City on exceeding these goals. We encourage the City to continue monitoring this important part of the project.
The City is also moving ahead with a marketing campaign to develop awareness of the program and to generate leads to income-eligible households. The campaign has been designed by the Chicago firm American Marketing Services, which the City says has experience in marketing affordable subsidized housing.
The theme of the campaign is “Live Evanston”; it stresses that “there will be like-new homes that will be offered at affordable prices in Evanston, a very desirable community.”
The campaign uses a variety of media to create awareness both within Evanston and outside the community. A website will contain information about the program, about individual properties for sale or rent, and a list of lenders willing to work with potential buyers. Newspaper ads will be placed in local and regional papers. Ads will be visible at train stations and on the sides of CTA and PACE buses. Banners will be attached to street lights, not only in the NSP2 areas, but also on main arterial roads in Evanston. Yard signs will be placed on the properties being sold or rented, and postcards will be direct-mailed to selected zip codes in various suburbs and Chicago.
The City has a list of 120 persons, largely Evanston residents, who have expressed an interest in buying or renting properties in the program. About 30 households have filled out registration forms since the website became operative.
Several aldermen raised concerns about the marketing program. One was that it was designed by a Chicago firm, rather than an Evanston firm, but American Marketing Services has already been retained and done work.
Another concern is that the “Live Evanston” theme appeared to some to be directed at persons outside the community, to entice them to come to Evanston, rather than focusing on encouraging people who already live here to take advantage of a unique opportunity to buy or rent affordable subsidized housing in their hometown. That’s a slight nuance, but an important one.
We recognize that it is important to the success of the program and to the revitalization of the affected neighborhoods that qualified buyers and renters be selected. And it is important to sell and rent the rehabbed properties as quickly as possible, to minimize the carrying costs and so they can be occupied. We support a strong marketing program, including one that reaches beyond the borders of Evanston, to do this.
To the extent possible, though, we hope the lion’s share of the housing will benefit qualified persons who already reside in Evanston. Based on some questions asked by Council members, we think they also share this view. If the marketing campaign can be tweaked to help accomplish this, we encourage that it be done.