The new two-story, 16-unit apartment complex at 1305 Pitner Ave. is a little rough around the edges – the landscaping has yet to be completed – but the inside is nearly ready for tenants.
There are eight one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom units, each with a kitchen-living area and a bathroom, in addition to the bedroom or bedrooms. Two units are ADA-accessible. There are storage units on the first floor, and laundry facilities and a community space on both the second and third floors. The parking lot has 12 spaces.
The appliances are energy-efficient, said Mary Coy, Director of Development at HOW, said the building will receive certification from Enterprise as a green community for environmentally responsive building practices.
In the parking area, a rain garden above ground and a retention pond below ground will help with stormwater management.
HOW, at 1607 Howard St. – on the Chicago side – developed the project for those who hold Chicago Housing Authority vouchers, formerly called Section 8 vouchers.
Tenants will have “24/7 on-call” support, according to the website 1305Pitner.org, which HOW developed specifically to describe this project. Because this is an independent apartment building, said HOW Executive Director Britt Shawver, there will be no staff onsite, but residents will be able to reach HOW staff at any time.
The project complied with the City’s zoning requirements, and HOW did not request variances, said Ms. Shawver. From the onset, she said, the project was designed as affordable housing for working families.
Perhaps because the acronym stands for Housing Opportunities for Women or because the YWCA Evanston/North Shore is also developing a housing project – that one for battered women and their children – some confusion may have arisen as to who would live in the project, she added.
Despite the “W” in the acronym, Ms. Shawver said, “Our housing has not been gender-preferenced for over 10 years now.”
The bulk of the financing for the project came through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, much of it administered through State and regional agencies. Two major funding agencies for this project were the Regional Housing Initiative (RHI) and the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA).
The Regional Housing Initiative is composed of several public housing authorities that have pooled a portion of their available rental assistance vouchers to provide long-term support for the rehabilitation or construction of multifamily, affordable rental homes in opportunity communities across the region, according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) website.
CMAP, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Planning Council and nine housing authorities in the region, administers the RHI.
One program of IHDA is the State Referral Network (SRN). Agreeing to allocate a certain percentage of housing to vulnerable residents as defined by the SRN helps a project developer obtain low-income tax credits.
According to the IHDA website, “SRN units are targeted for households earning at or below 30% of the area median income, with a head of household who has a disability or illness, including, but not limited to, a physical, developmental or mental limitation, substance abuse disorder, HIV/AIDS, or is homeless or at risk of homelessness.”
The funding sources for the HOW project dictate who may be a tenant in the building at 1305 Pitner Ave. Of the 16 tenants or tenant families that will occupy units there, 12 will come from a list compiled by the Regional Housing Initiative and four from the Statewide Referral Network.
The tenants, who will be first screened by the Chicago Housing Authority and subsequently by HOW – must qualify for a housing voucher through the RHI.
Because there was no City of Evanston participation in the project, Evanston residents, at this point, will not have preference for living there. Ms. Shawver said HOW made some proposals to City officials, asking that the City provide some funding for the project, which would have enabled HOW to give some preference to Evanston residents. So far, Ms. Shawver said, the City has declined to participate.
“We worked diligently to accomplish a local preference for a portion of the building,” Ms. Shawver told the RoundTable. “At this point in time we have not been able to do this. We are still open to working in partnership with the City to accomplish this goal. Funds would need to be dedicated to the building. The City could commit rental assistance to the units in lieu of using the support from RHI.”
Even though Evanston residents may not be given a preference, some may be on the SRN or the RHI list.
Open House, Local Reaction
An open house on Aug. 22 attracted several City officials as well as curious, interested and concerned neighbors.
Noting that no City financing was involved in the project Sarah Flax, Housing and Grants Manager for the City of Evanston, said the City just kept an eye out to see that the project was built properly.
Asked what effect she felt the project would have on the community, retired Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes, who attended the neighborhood open house, said, “I’m not sure what impact the new HOW project will have on the community. I do know that some neighbors are still concerned about property values. It has turned out to be an okay building, but personally I still feel that it’s a great project, just in the wrong location. That corner is a very blind corner. I had an accident there, and maybe that’s why I feel that way about it.”
Ray Friedman, one of the neighbors who had opposed the project, also attended the open house. He said those neighbors have written a letter to Alderman Peter Braithwaite, in whose Second Ward the property sits. The letter says the neighbors still have some unanswered questions, particularly about the City’s zoning and review of the property.
Tina Paden, who, with family members, owns and manages several properties in Evanston, said she felt some of the units were very small.
“Only the Design and Project Review Committee looked at this project. One of the main functions of that committee is to ensure that the project is compatible with its surroundings,” Mr. Friedman said.
Patricia Gregory, who also lives in the neighborhood, told the RoundTable, “It’s fantastic. It’s a great idea. I know I voiced my concerns that usually when a program comes to Evanston, the people of Evanston benefit right away. She [a HOW staffer] said the people who invested in the property wanted to do something different – to have people from outside the community come and live here. “I think the problem is that people don’t like change. They’re afraid of it. People are afraid when they hear ‘low income.’ They think people are going to tear up the property. HOW said they are going to screen tenants further. I said, ‘It’s not the people who pay the rent [that cause problems] – it’s their children. I think Evanston has things so in place that you can go to the City or the police – or the people themselves – if there is a problem.
“People are looking at [the project] through one lens and not two. I look at the program as being good and beneficial not just to the people who will live there but to the community. It’s a good place for people who need to get back on their feet.”
Retired Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she felt the apartments are “well laid out and show a terrific use of space – and it’s wonderful to see the light coming through the windows.”
She added the project helps meet the need for affordable housing and increase the diversity in Evanston. She added she does have a concern that the selection process does not give preference to Evanston residents. “I want to be sure that Evanstonians have a fair shot,” she said.
Ald. Braithwaite said he appreciated the neighbors “who took the time to attend meetings to try to understand the facts. I look forward to welcoming 16 new families to the Second Ward.”