During July, Reclaim Evanston and Joining Forces for Affordable Housing held meetings with residents in each of Evanston’s nine wards to get resident input and support for new policies that will increase affordable housing in Evanston. More than 150 residents attended the nine ward meetings.

The campaign had three goals: educate residents about the housing crisis in Evanston; gather feedback about how to make housing more affordable; and gather support for putting one-half of increase in revenues from the increased revised real estate transfer tax into the City’s Affordable Housing fund.

 Sue Loellbach, manager of advocacy for Connections for the Homeless (which founded the Joining Forces coalition), along with Doug Sharp and Annie Pike of Reclaim Evanston, prepared a presentation to illustrate the nature of Evanston’s housing crisis. It showed that the following groups are most housing-stressed because they devote more than 30% of their income to home ownership or rental costs: persons of color, low-income households, the elderly, families with several children, young singles and disabled individuals.

Maps of Evanston were prepared to show which neighborhoods experience the most negative impacts of housing stress, including health problems, employment and financial difficulties, chronic tensions at home and deleterious effect of all these things on children’s physical, emotional and cognitive development.

The presentation also highlighted how different areas of the City face different challenges; for example, the long-term effects of red-lining in the Fifth Ward which goes back to 1930s; these policies prevented African American residents in the Fifth Ward from obtaining FHA mortgages, thereby blocking their access to the predominant means by which Americans have created family wealth and prosperity.

Leslie Paluch spoke on behalf of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, which is compiling stories about resident housing experiences, and asked meeting attendees to contact her if they wished to share their experiences anonymously.

After the presentation, residents offered many ideas of their own for reducing housing stress in our community beyond those currently being considered by City staff. These will be shared with the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee which was created by the Mayor last spring and is scheduled to produce a plan early next year.

At the end of each Ward meeting, attendees were asked to volunteer to meet with their alderman to determine what he or she considers the best way of dealing with the lack of affordable housing in Evanston, and whether he or she will vote to allocate one-half of the increase in the real estate transfer tax funds to the Affordable Housing fund. In every ward, volunteers stepped forward to take on this responsibility.  We now have over 50 Evanstonians across the nine wards who will attend these meetings.

Our hope is that Council will pass an ordinance this September to move half of the increase from the revised Real Estate Transfer Tax to the Affordable Housing Fund, and that next year Council will adopt a meaningful revised Plan for Affordable Housing that includes recommendations put forward by the residents of Evanston during the July meetings.

Mr. Sharp is a member of Reclaim Evanston.