Housing in Evanston took a back seat to budget discussions at the Oct. 29 City Council meeting, but there was some time for Council members to hear an update on the City’s Affordable Housing Work Plan, refer to the Plan Commission for analysis and discussion of the matter of public benefits from planned developments and approve an ordinance setting affordability levels for home ownership. Aldermen deferred discussion of proposed downtown zoning regulations, but no date was set for that discussion.

Public Benefits: Developers asking the City for accommodations – additional height or density, as examples – in their projects must give something back to the community in some form of public benefit. Examples of public benefits are public art, landscaping, Divvy bike stations and public plazas. Aldermen agreed that the Plan Commission should develop recommendations for public benefits and send them to the Council.

Aldermen asked specifically that the Plan Commission look at what other communities are doing, how each proposal would benefit as many people as possible and whether the benefit has to be in the immediate vicinity of the development.  Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said she would like to remove Divvy bikes from the list of public benefits.  

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said that the “equity lens” should be applied to proposed public benefits and that he would prefer consideration of public benefits remain with Council. Even with Plan Commission recommendations, aldermen have the ultimate authority over determining what the public benefits will be.  

Work Plan Update: Housing Grants Administrator Sarah Flax and Housing Policy and Planning Analyst Savannah Clement provided an update on several aspects of the City’s Affordable Housing Work Plan.
Among these are creating new housing opportunities through changes in zoning and occupancy standards, increasing the number of affordable units in market-rate developments, expanding revenues for affordable housing, creating pathways for home ownership, preserving affordable housing, maintaining and expanding rent subsidies and developing a comprehensive housing plan.

The City could help create more affordable units by amending its zoning ordinance to allow the creation of new accessory dwelling units (ADUs) such as coach houses, the construction of appropriately sized houses on small lots, the rental of existing coach houses to non-family members and the occupancy of a unit by more than three unrelated people, Ms. Flax said. Incentivizing developers to create affordable units in market-rate developments could lead to more affordable units.

One pathway to homeownership begins at 1600 Dodge Ave., where students and staff in Evanston Township High School’s Geometry in Construction class each year build a home that is transferred to a vacant City-owned lot and sold at an affordable price to an Evanston family.

The City’s landlord rehabilitation assistance and handyman programs help landlords who rent affordable units keep the properties in code compliance. The City at present offers rent subsidies to help families become stable. More funds would be helpful.

To create a comprehensive housing plan, Mayor Stephen Hagerty asked interested parties to apply to be on an affordable housing steering committee. He presented his selected applicants to Council on Oct. 29. Some aldermen grumbled privately about the committee’s composition, because not all of the members are from Evanston, yet they will create a housing plan for residents here. Nontheless, Council approved the appointments. The members of the steering committee are Ellen Cushing, Sarah Delgado, Aum Harvey, Stephanie Murray, Jennifer O’Neil, Rodney Orr, Eleanor Revelle, Uri Pachter, Michael Roane, Christopher Rothewell and Timothy Stroh.

IHO Change: Aldermen approved an amendment to the City’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance that set the level of affordability for home ownership of units covered by the ordinance. The City’s Affordable Housing Subcommittee requested that aldermen set the parameters for affordability under the ordinance, offering them two options: a) that all units be sold to families or individuals earning 100% or less than the area median income (AMI) as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or b) that half the units be sold to families or individuals earning 100% of the AMI and half to those earning 80% of the AMI. Aldermen voted 8-1 for the income level of 100% of the AMI. Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons cast the lone “no” vote.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...