What began as a post-presidential election rally of sorts has led to the creation of Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, a coalition of human services agencies determined to take action to address one of Evanston’s most complex problems. 

In December, Sue Loellbach of Connections for the Homeless organized a meeting with local legislators and human services agencies to discuss how best to work together to address common barriers facing residents in need of affordable housing on the North Shore. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and State Senators Dan Biss, Laura Fine, and Robyn Gabel joined about 30 local agencies to share ideas on how to advocate for the needs of constituents in the changing and uncertain political environment. 

That “rally” as Ms. Loellbach called it, led to more targeted discussions and ultimately the formation of a steering committee to create a coalition of local agencies to “leverage its resources” and affect local change in affordable housing.

On July 10 Ms. Loellbach began a newly created position at Connections for the Homeless, further advancing the agency’s commitment to Joining Forces. As Manager of Advocacy, she will be able to take a key role in the new coalition.

Additionally, the organization recruited Nia Tavoularis, formerly Philanthropy Director at WBEZ (Chicago’s NPR Station), to accelerate private fundraising for the organization’s expansion efforts. The addition of the two new positions and the focus on increasing private philanthropy are part of Connections’ developing strategic plan and the turnaround effort that the organization has been undergoing for the past two years.  Connections recently hired Sallamah Aliah, formerly of Esperanza, to fill the new position of Manager of Community & Shelter Programs.

Betty Bogg, Executive Director of Connections for the Homeless, said, “Considering the tumultuous State of Illinois budgeting process and leadership at the Federal level, which states that poverty is a ’state of mind,’ Connections for the Homeless is forced to take bold steps to help those members of our community who are the most vulnerable and overlooked.

 “Without systemic change that creates more affordable housing in Evanston and elsewhere on the North Shore, Connections is working with one hand tied behind its back. We cannot prevent families from becoming homeless or move more people into housing unless more affordable housing becomes available. It is our responsibility and opportunity to tackle this issue head-on.”

Joining Forces currently has six confirmed members and organizations on its steering committee. They are Birch Burghardt, Interfaith Action of Evanston; Juliana Conway, Northwestern University Social Justice Advocacy Fellow; Sarah Delgado, Chicago Fair Housing Alliance; Adrian Willoughby, Reba Place Development Corporation; Bonnie Wilson, Age Friendly Evanston; and Ms. Loellbach of Connections.

Nearly 30 other local agencies have expressed interest in membership.

Four Areas of Focus

Ms. Loellbach told the RoundTable that discussions about barriers to affordable housing have driven the structure of the coalition. A general lack of resources and a lack of understanding of how affordable housing works is common in the area, said Ms. Loellbach. Affordable housing is a “complex issue and needs a multifaceted solution.”

Building membership, basic infrastructure, and communications is the current focus of the Steering Committee. Three other committees have been established to look at barriers and how best to address systematic change. 

YIMBY (Yes, In My Back Yard!) Committee will increase community awareness of the benefits of affordable housing and build a network of people to publicly support affordable housing.

A Local Issues Committee will follow what is happening in affordable housing and help identify where the coalition should focus its attention. Volunteers are being sought to take on a watch-dog function and conduct “in-person monitoring of a local housing-related government or policy organization” to help make recommendations and decisions about policy.

An Education Committee will provide ongoing training to interested coalition members on affordable housing solutions, messaging, community organizing, and the like. Many do not know enough about the issues surrounding affordable housing, said Ms. Loellbach, and education is key to being a good advocate.

Joining Forces hopes to have a solid structure in place and a community awareness campaign underway by this fall.

Ultimately, Ms. Loellbach said, she would like to see the coalition, through its group of experts, develop a “recipe for what it would take” or “picture of the ideal” for solving Evanston’s affordable housing dilemma. “No one action will solve the problem” but we “have to know what we are fighting for to meet the needs of the North Shore community.”

“Without housing, how can we expect people to take care of themselves or their families?” asked Ms. Bogg. “How do they get and keep jobs or make doctor appointments? And if there is no affordable housing to be had, then what do we expect people to do? With the support of our philanthropic partners, our organizational partners, and the incredibly engaged and supportive community that is Evanston and the North Shore, we can prevent more families and individuals from becoming homeless and house more people who are already on the streets.”

More information about Joining Forces for Affordable Housing is available at joiningforcesforaffordablehousing.org.