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City Council discussed an initiative to encourage Evanston’s police officers and firefighters to live in Evanston at its Oct. 1 meeting.

Studying a staff report prepared by the City’s fellow, Godwin Chen, Council instructed City staff to survey current employees to determine their level of interest and what types of incentives would encourage more to “live near their work.”
The concept has been under discussion since at least 2006, when Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, first made a Council “reference.”

The City encourages employees to live in Evanston for a number of reasons.

“There are subtle aspects of living here that are different from working here,” said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward. Officers know the residents better, and know the neighborhoods and general area better, if they live in Evanston, she said.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said employees living here also “recycle tax dollars in the community.” When more money than the City pays to employees is then spent locally, the community benefits, he said.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that currently about 30 percent of City employees live in Evanston, another 30 percent in closely neighboring communities such as Skokie and Lincolnwood, with the rest scattered about the Chicagoland area.

Incentives offered by other communities focus on home-ownership, according to Mr. Chen’s report. “Live Near Your Work” programs offer home-buyer assistance, such as down-payment assistance, reduced mortgage rates or waived settlement costs such as real estate transfer taxes. He said programs in the communities he studied have been successful, with all funds assigned depleted on an annual basis.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, suggested that the City determine the level of interest current employees have in living in Evanston before initiating such a program. “We should take their temperature,” she said.

Based upon an email Ald. Grover sent him earlier, Chief of Police Richard Eddington said he had already begun working on a survey that would ask what types of incentives would induce a move here.

Council suggested a comprehensive survey that could address both positive and negative aspects of the issue. The survey will ask what types of incentives would work, if employees have ever lived near work, and what are the reasons that an employee might not want to live in Evanston, among other questions.

Council can expect survey results in December or January, said Mr. Bobkeiwicz, and act or decide not to act after digesting the results.