Drawing shows proposed senior residence for 999 and 1015 Howard St.  From packet presented to the City of Evanston by Evergreen Real Estate Group

The City is all in on a major affordable housing project proposed for Howard Street.

City Council members approved a letter of support Feb. 4 for a $23 million affordable senior housing development project planned for Howard Street, committing up to $2 million in assistance to make the project work.

Aldermen voted 9-0 at the City Council meeting in support of a letter to the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) that demonstrated City support for the 60-unit development by  the Evergreen Real Estate Group and the Council of Jewish Elderly (CJE) at 1015 Howard St.

Aldermen moved forward on the issue in recognition of a Feb. 15 deadline the applicants face to submit the letter to IHDA. The agency’s financing in the form of low- income-housing tax credits is regarded as essential to the development’s moving forward.

“The best news,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, in whose Eighth Ward the site is located, “would be overwhelming support from IHDA for this application, which gives us a great deal of hope that this could conceivably happen.”

Evergreen and CJE are  proposing to build the four-story building at 1015 and 999 Howard St., a former Dairy  Queen site.

Developers are planning  to construct 54 one-bedroom units and six two- bedroom units, which would be affordable for households earning up to $40,620, said David Block, director of development for Evergreen Real Estate, addressing the  Council Feb. 4.

The project is in line with the revitalization of Howard Street, said Mr.  Block in his presentation. “This is an independent living building,” he said, “so even though these are lower-income seniors, we anticipate they are very likely to be active seniors. They will live on Howard Street. They will eat at Howard Street restaurants. They probably will take the bus and come to downtown Evanston and go shopping on Howard Street. We think this is a real contribution to the Evanston community.’’

Mr. Block estimated the project will generate between 100 and 120 construction jobs. He said the final development is to include two permanent positions for property management. He expressed hope to create a preference for Evanston residents as tenants in the building, pledging to work with City staff “to help shape that policy in a way that makes sense.”

In discussion, some aldermen sought specifics on the impact on the City’s affordable housing funds and the effect on other projects.

“I know we have a definite need for senior housing,” said  Ald. Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward. “But I was also really hoping to move the conversation for some kind of rental subsidies [elsewhere]… because I know we have families or single parents. … This isn’t designed to meet their needs. If we use up potentially all the money in our affordable housing fund those folks won’t benefit – no matter how beautiful this building might be.”

Ald. Rainey  argued this was not an opportunity the City should pass up. “You have never been offered 60 units of affordable housing for people who are making 30% and 60% of [area] median income for the  area. This is something that we will probably never be offered again. So to pass on this opportunity would be folly,” she said.

Ald. Rainey said the City’s assistance would work out to roughly $33,000 per unit.  “We have spent so much more on single units to rehab them – we have spent 50 thousand, 60 thousand, 70 thousand – 100 thousand, 200 hundred thousand [dollars] on units to rehabilitate,” she noted. “This is brand-new housing for seniors. There is no greater need than senior housing development.”

In a memo, staff recommended approval. Currently, the City’s affordable housing fund has an uncommitted balance of $800,000, staff reported, “with $2.4 million in developer contributions from the 811 Emerson project anticipated by year’s end 2019.”

In recommending approval, staff noted that Evergreen’s funding request of up to $2 million from the City comprises 8.5% of the total development budget of $23.4 million and would result in the largest number of new housing units for households at or below 60% area median income since the 75-unit Jacob Blake Manor on Emerson Street in 1997. 

The entire project would be on the tax rolls and would add an estimated $65,000 to $70,000 annually, of which about 20% would be the City’s portion, staff reported.

“The project will also activate the long-vacant Dairy Queen site and further the City’s goals to redevelop the Howard Street corridor,” said City Community Development Director Johanna Leonard, Housing and Grants Manager Sarah Flax, Housing Policy and Planning Analyst Savannah Clement in the memo.

Mr. Block said his team hopes to hear back by May about the status of the application with IDHA, he told Council members. If the project is approved, the developers will then work on financing applications and due diligence through 2019, he said.

Construction would start in the first quarter of 2020, with completion anticipated in the first or second quarter of 2021, and leasing to begin in early 2021.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.