City Council members on July 30 received an update on the progress of the City’s long-term plans for preserving and possibly creating affordable housing. In the short term, aldermen delayed one grant and approved another.
Emergency Shelter Grant Funds
Connections for the Homeless and the YWCA Evanston/North Shore will share $135,000 of the $146,000 federal Emergency Service Grant, the remainder staying with the City to cover the cost of grant administration. The funds will be used for essential services/street outreach, operating expenses of homeless shelters, rapid re-housing for homeless households and homeless prevention for households at high risk of homelessness.
Tenant-Based Rental Assistance
The Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) program, administered by Connections for the Homeless, serves 64 people in 17 households. The program provides stable housing for two years to underemployed families with children under the age of 18 in Evanston and helps break the cycle of poverty and instability by helping families develop the capacity to earn a living wage to support their families and afford market rate rental housing.
The amount of the grant this year is $300,000, an increase of $50,000 because of rising rents here, according to a memo from Community Development Director Johanna Leonard, Housing and Grants Administrator Sarah Flax and Housing Policy Planning Analyst Savannah Clement.
The memo also stated, “The need for housing and other supports for at-risk families has grown due to state budgeting issues and recent cuts to federal programs including the Housing Choice Voucher [formerly called Section 8] program. That program has lost $228 million nationally from 2010 to 2016 causing tens of thousands of families to lose rental assistance. Furthermore, rents have continued to increase both nationally and locally, while incomes have remained stagnant. As a result, there is a considerable need for rental assistance programs in order to help households achieve housing stability, self-sufficiency, and break the cycle of poverty.”
While it appears that Connections will administer this grant, Council delayed the vote because three members of one family that owns several properties in Evanston and offers units at affordable prices through the TBRA program brought to Council a problem they had with Connections. Alfred, Tina and Renee Paden said they felt Connections owed them about $7,000 in rent subsidies and said Connections wished to have them sign a release of claims in order to get their money. Because, they said, they believed they would incur further costs with certain tenants of Connections, they refused to sign the release.
Council members directed the parties to resolve the issue so the funds could be released, possibly at the next City Council meeting.
Ms. Flax gave an update on affordable housing efforts in the City, describing some accomplishments, some things in the works and some things for the future.
Changes to some City ordinances could help increase the number of affordable units here, Ms. Flax said. Examples she gave are repealing the “three-unrelated” ordinance – prohibiting more than three unrelated persons from living in one unit – and easing restrictions on property owners’ renting out coach houses and other accessory dwelling units.
City staff are also looking at possible changes to the inclusionary housing ordinance.
“We’re updating and modifying the inclusionary housing ordinance,” Ms. Flax said, by redefining income levels and looking at different ways the ordinance can cover developments where most of the units are affordable.
At present, the City’s inclusionary housing ordinance has different definitions of incomes for homebuyers and renters, and further differentiates by whether the units are in transit-oriented developments (TODs) or not (non-TODs), Ms. Flax said. By email to the RoundTable, Ms. Flax wrote, “The definitions of “low-, moderate and middle income household’ are simplified [in the proposed modifications to the ordinance] to match the definitions
in the Affordable Housing White Paper. ‘Low’ is a household income at or below 50% of area median income [AMI]; ‘moderate’ is above 50% but not exceeding 80% of AMI, and ‘middle’ is above 80% but not exceeding 120% of AMI.”
“We’ve also looked at the ‘missing middle’ – individuals and families with incomes that are 80% to 120% of the AMI,” considering how the ordinance could help them, Ms. Flax said. As an example, she said, a property owner who keeps units affordable for those in the missing middle might be exempted from other parts of the inclusionary housing ordinance.
Among other possible changes to the inclusionary housing ordinance are adding development bonuses to projects with 5-10% of their onsite units affordable; extending the affordability period for rental units to 30 years from its present 25 years; requiring the payment of the fees-in-lieu with the payment for a building permit; and having different payment-in-lieu fees for transit-oriented developments and others.
“We just want to make sure we are striking the right balance and development does not come to a grinding halt,” Ms. Flax said. “The City Council is in control,” Ms. Flax said, adding the purpose of the proposed changes the inclusionary housing ordinance is considering “is to give certainty to developers and save them time – and we are also looking at other sources of revenue.”