A program that provides stable housing for up to two years for 10 or more Evanston families was renewed for another year by the Evanston City Council on May 22. The program, “Tenant-Based Rental Assistance” or “TBRA” is administered by Connections for the Homeless and serves families with children under 18 who are in the Evanston school system.
The “continuation of TBRA is based on the need and the current program’s success,” wrote staff in the memo provided to City Council. “Of 22 families enrolled in the 2013 program, 18 … were able to achieve housing stability/self-sufficiency due to an increase in income or access to other affordable housing.” Two others moved out of Evanston, and two “received an extension of rental assistance” beyond two years.
The program began in 2013 with a $500,000 grant that helped the first 22 families. The City added another $250,000 in 2016 for 10 additional families. The present grant will aid an additional 10 families.
Funding will come from the City’s HOME funds grant of $260,000 in 2017.
“We work extremely hard to make sure our families can move on to market rent in two years,” said Betty Bogg, executive director of Connections. The focus is on educational continuity – keeping kids in their current school. The program accepts only families with kids in District 65 or 202, said Ms. Bogg.
Tina Paden, a local landlord whose family owns property in which TBRA tenants have stayed, said the program was very effective. “We’ve had several [tenants] who have graduated, their children graduated,” she said. She said her property is the only one in town able to accommodate a family of nine – two parents and seven children. “There’s nowhere else in Evanston they were going to be housed,” she said. “Now they have moved on and are paying market rent” elsewhere.
She said that other programs, such as Family Promise Chicago North Shore and Catholic Charities were relocating families to Des Plaines. “I’ve been getting calls bananas,” she said, looking for housing in Evanston.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked Ms. Boggs, “How many families do you turn away?”
“There are six on the waiting list, but we just reopened it,” said Ms. Boggs. The list is tied to the school year, and Connections does not keep a list in the middle of the year.
“What would you say is the most critical housing need in Evanston today?” asked Ald. Rainey.
“The root cause” of the inability to find affordable housing for “many we serve is a lack of good-paying jobs,” said Ms. Boggs. “I can’t get away from the impact of wages. … It would be to my great delight if we could put ourselves out of business.” Connections hires people who are forced to live far away, “and we pay fairly well for a social services agency.”
“My point was earlier” during the CPAH grant discussion “that two units does not solve the problem,” said Ald. Rainey.
“And 20 units of TBRA doesn’t either, but it solves it for the people it serves,” said Ms. Boggs.
The measure passed unanimously at Planning and Development Committee, then on the consent agenda at the City Council meeting.
Community Partners for Affordable Housing (CPAH) will receive forgivable loans totaling nearly $580,000 in order to acquire and rehab two units of affordable housing, likely one 3-bedroom and one 2-bedroom unit. Once the units are completed, the titles to each unit will be placed in a land trust promising affordable status for 99 years.
The funds come from the federal HOME program through HUD ($252,662 of about $300,000 in available funds) and the City’s Affordable Housing Funds collected from developers under the City’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.
Federal HUD guidelines require the units developed with federal funds remain affordable for at least 15 years, but the land trust structure promises 99 years. The units, once completed, will be available to renters who make between 60% and 80% of area median income – between $51,240 and $68,300 for a family of five.
The City’s Planning and Development Committee recommendation to pass the measure did not come without debate or controversy, and sparked a long conversation about the benefits of long-term, stable affordable units as compared to shorter-term, tenant based rental assistance programs. CPAH representatives highlighted the benefit of one-time payments, this time close to $580,000 worth, securing two units of housing for 99 years. Several aldermen, however, said they wanted a program that would help more families immediately, not just two families at a time.
“I have witnessed the value of long-term stable housing,” said Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward. Families are stabilized and children have a safe community in which to grow up, she said. “I have witnessed this for people that I care about.” She then asked whether there were any complementary programs accompanying the housing.
Amy Kaufman, Assistant Director of CPAH, said her organization offers landscaping training, financial literacy and insurance classes and other programming that “keeps us in touch with our residents” and “lines of communication open.”
Lee Smith, vice president of CPAH’s board of directors, said CPAH offered “financing workshops,” taught tenants “home budgeting” and “home maintenance classes,” and held community picnics to bring families together. The goal for some tenants is to graduate out of a CPAH home into market priced housing or even home ownership, he said.
Others, though, spoke about the consistent, ongoing need for stable, affordable housing. “I see real value in providing some permanency,” said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward.
Savannah Clement, the City’s Housing Policy and Planning Analyst, said the CPAH units offered a “more long term solution” to the affordable housing problem than tenant based rental assistance. “A MSW [masters in social work counselor] will never make enough to afford market rent in Evanston,” she said. The staff memo listed social workers, bank tellers, medical assistants, administrative assistants and jobs in the service and retail industries” as other jobs with pay falling in the 60 to 80% of AMI range.
But the cost of the units and the limited number – just two families can be helped at one time for the $579,000 – caused some aldermen to pause.
“The difficulty I had before and I’m still struggling with is the cost of the units,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward. “It really gives me pause to dedicate the entire [$579,000] for two units.” He said he did not “have a high degree of confidence” the units would remain affordable for the full 99 years, despite their land trust status. He said a number of residents contacted him with comments like, “’Are you kidding me? $600,000 for two units?’”
Later, he added, “The difficulty is this helps two families now” and two families at a time for 99 years. The money spent could help a whole lot of families right now, he said.
Kim Ulbrich, CPAH’s executive director, said the HOME program is all about units, with a goal of “creating affordable units.” She said CPAH “would love to develop more units as well,” but market conditions limited what they could do.
CPAH previously brought 10 affordable units on line in Evanston, seven rental and three ownership-model units sold to qualified buyers, but those 10 units were funded mostly by the Attorney General’s Mortgage Foreclosure Settlement funds. The settlement awarded $1.5 million to Evanston, which City Council augmented with $300,000 in HOME funds in the summer of 2013.
Since then, Ms. Ulbrich said, the housing market has recovered and construction costs have gone up. “This is an estimate because of course we can’t go out and buy anything without City approval,” she said. If they can find the right property at a lower price and construction costs are lower, perhaps there will be less need.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the problem with CPAH’s program was that families could stay in their affordable units even when they started making more money. “I see that as a major flaw of this program,” she said. “You do not have to graduate out of the program.”
Ms. Ulbrich said rent increases as income increases, and eventually the rent in the unit tends to drive residents out. “They usually move” on their own when they can afford market rate, she said. “That’s not our experience in 14 years” that people stay on when they can afford to move, she said. “We never make a family leave,” she admitted, but once a family “starts making money, they want to move.”
Ald. Rainey turned then to what she called “the desperate need for immediate rental.” She said there were single mothers with kids “needing housing now.” She referenced the TBRA program, tenant-based rental assistance next on the Committee’s agenda. “My inclination is to divide this money up, add” money to the TBRA program. “People are being sent to De Plaines,” she said, people with children in Evanston schools.
The City’s Grants Administrator, Sarah Flax, said, “We can allocate HOME funds to both” the CPAH project and the TBRA program. When 2017 HOME funds roll in, she said, the City would receive $260,000, and those funds can be “released over time.”
Some HOME funs “need to be spent on bricks and sticks” as well, and cannot go to rental assistance. If designated funds known as “CHDO reserves” are not spent on affordable units, they must be returned to HUD, she said. According to the staff memo, over $39,400 would go back to HUD.
“I would still like to add to TBRA. Expand it,” said Ald. Rainey.
“I think it’s important for us to have both kinds of programs,” said Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, both short-term tenant-based assistance and long-term project-based housing.
The Committee voted 7-0 to support the CPAH funding. The next step is to identify a property for purchase and get it under contract. “We must have an address” for the affordable project “by July 31,” said Ms. Flax.
Temporary and Long-Term Housing Solutions
Two items on City Council’s May 22 agenda sparked a debate about how best to approach the City’s affordable housing problem – project based assistance, where affordable units are created and remain affordable for at least 15 years, or tenant based assistance, where rent subsidies allow tenants to live in market-priced rental units.
The first item sought funding two new affordable units. The second sought funding for temporary rental assistance for ten families. These are just two of numerous programs in the City of Evanston, and over the coming months, the RoundTable will be publishing a series of articles on the various programs and, to the extent possible, the City’s over-arching affordable housing strategy.