Looking from Foster Street near Jackson Avenue into the Emerson Square development.     RoundTable photo

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The second part of the NSP2 project has begun: Emerson Square, a new 32-unit residential complex in the block bounded by Jackson and Dewey avenues and Emerson and Foster streets.

The $18.1 million grant was a neighborhood stabilization project, part of a federal program designed to help stabilize neighborhoods that had been harmed by foreclosures and vacancies in the financial crisis of the past few years.

Brinshore Partners, the City’s private partner on the NSP2 development,  has completed construction or rehab on 59 units, said Jolene Saul, who oversees the NSP2 project for the City.  Steve Griffin, director of Community and Economic Development for the City, told residents at a Jan. 16 Fifth Ward meeting that the first part of the NSP2 project, purchasing and rehabbing 100 foreclosed units, is nearly complete.

“Ninety-six of the 100 units have been acquired; 11 of the units have been purchased, and 22 have been rented,” he said. There is a wait-list of about 80 people wishing to rent, and 250 persons have availed themselves of the eight-hour home-buyer counseling sessions offered by the City, Mr. Griffin added. All the units are to be sold or rented at affordable prices.

Federal regulations required that the main contractor on NSP2 work try to subcontract some of the work to local businesses; in addition, the City requested that Brinshore hire a certain percentage of minority-owned, women-owned or Evanston-based businesses on the project. Of the subcontracted work, 43 percent has gone to minority-owned businesses, 32 percent to woman-owned businesses and 65 percent to Evanston-based businesses, said Mr. Griffin.

These numbers exceed the requirements set by both the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the City, Ms. Saul said.

Nonetheless, some residents said they felt that not enough jobs have gone to local minority businesses. Todd Lieberman of Brinshore said the company had hired many local contractors, most of whom are non-union, but “some of the jobs are union jobs.”

Ms. Saul said the project entailed much more “gut rehab” work than had been anticipated. As a result, the City is asking HUD for more money or for permission to demolish four buildings and land-bank the property for about 10 years. Those properties are 1941 Jackson Ave., 1509 Emerson St., 2122 Darrow Ave. and 2142 Dewey Ave. The City, not Brinshore, would own them during the land-bank period, she said.

Ms. Saul also said that Evanston Township High School is considering buying one of the properties, having some of the classes rehab it and then reselling it as affordable.

Resident and activist Betty Ester said she was “surprised” that more rehab work than anticipated was required because “Brinshore is supposed to be expert in rehab.” She also disputed the City’s figures that 70 of the rehabs were “complete,” because, she said, according to HUD, a property is complete only when it is occupied.

Ms. Saul said that people who work or live in Evanston are given a “first look” at the for-sale units – that is, they get to view a home or condo for two weeks before it goes on the market, and Evanston residents receive preference for the rental units.
Emerson Square will have 24 rental apartments in four six-flat buildings and two sets of two-story townhomes.