Changes to the City’s inclusionary and affordable housing program will be discussed during a public workshop set for June 29 at the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. Council has been wrestling with the issue for several months, trying to find a formula that will answer as many concerns as possible while providing the most affordable units to those with less means.

As it stands, the ordinance applies to new developments with 25 or more owner-occupied units. Under the ordinance, a specified percentage of the new housing units must be affordable to households with moderate incomes. In lieu of these set-asides, a developer may pay a $40,000 fee per unit into an affordable housing fund.

Proposed changes to the ordinance include that it would expand its reach to apartment developments and condominium conversions, and it would increase the payment-in-lieu option from $40,000 to $100,000 per unit.  

Sara Flax, the City’s housing and grants administrator, placed the problem in perspective: the City’s affordable housing stock has declined by 40% since 2004, she said. In 2004, 25.9% of the City’s housing stock was considered affordable, compared to just 15.4% in 2013, the most recent date for which data is available. 

Any solution is expected to provide developer benefits, such as height bonuses, floor-area ratio bonuses, or density benefits, suggested Housing Planner Mary Ellen Poole. If a developer provided affordable units, affordable according to an area median income and percentage of earnings going toward rent, then the developer would receive in exchange the right to build a taller, denser development, for example. 

A solution will also include penalties for failing to provide affordable units, more in line with the current requirements for condo developments. A shift in the marketplace to the construction of more apartment units than condo units has rendered the ordinance as currently in place less effective, even though recent developments like E2 and the new Maple Avenue development have agreed to a voluntary contribution to the City’s affordable housing fund. 

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, proposed the workshop. “I think we need to do something, but we need to do something right,” she said. “I propose that we have a workshop, a single meeting or two devoted solely to this issue.”

Developers should be invited, she added, because they can provide insight into the type of incentives that work. “It all depends on whether you can get funding,” she said, and if Evanston’s restrictions would prevent new developments, then no new housing stock will be constructed. 

“I want to do something that’s impactful,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward. He pointed to Highland Park’s ordinance, which has resulted in “24 units in 14 years. That’s not very useful. My vision is quality, affordable, market-price housing.” He also asked for data on where and why affordable housing is being lost. 

Several aldermen mentioned the importance of keeping the issue “on the front burner.” While Community Development Director Mark Muenzer pointed out, “We are not looking to move an ordinance tonight.” The staff and Council seek a solution on how to move forward, on June 29.