Rendering of 68-unit residence proposed for 1900 Sherman Ave. The project is slated to include a combination of affordable, middle- rate or "missing middle" and market- rate rental units to serve a diverse range of Evanstonians 55 years of age or older.

The lack of affordable housing for both low- and middle-income seniors in Evanston is a serious problem, Margaret Gergen, a member of the Age Friendly Evanston Task Force Housing Committee, told the aldermen at a City Council meeting held shortly before the COVID-19 crises became a reality.

For low- and middle-income seniors, there is a shortage of affordable housing for independent-living, and there are no affordable assisted-living units at all.

By 2024, the problem is predicted to become more serious for the 75 to 84 age group, which is the fastest growing segment of Evanston’s senior population.

The Task Force

In 2014, Mayor ElizabethTisdahl formed the Age-Friendly Evanston Task Force to develop an Age-Friendly Action Plan for the City based on the World Health Organization (WHO) model. After gathering information and data for two years, the Task Force issued its report in 2016. The report covered all eight components of the WHO model, one of which is housing.

Ms. Gergen said the Task Force concluded there were three critical needs to address in the area of housing. There is a need:

  • to provide additional affordable housing units for seniors capable of independent living,
  • to provide affordable, assisted-living units for seniors who need more help, and
  • to expand shared-housing options.

After presenting their report to City Council in 2016, Task Force members explored ways to address these needs and decided to focus on the first two. They zeroed in on a 50, 50, 50 model, which would be a housing development containing 50 units for affordable independent-living, 50 units for affordable assisted-living, and 50 market-rate units for  assisted living. They also thought the affordable units for seniors capable of independent-living might include units for a wider range of income levels than is customary.

In discussing the plan with people in the community, Ms. Gergen said, “Everyone thought this was a great idea. But no developer, no financer is going to talk to you without a feasibility study.”

So, the Task Force approached Sawgrass Partners, senior living developers and advisors based in Glenview, to conduct a study of the need for senior housing in Evanston, including by income level. Sawgrass agreed to conduct the study at a substantial discounted fee, said Ms. Gergen.

The Sawgrass Study’s Findings

“In an initial survey, many people said they were concerned that they would be forced out of Evanston in their retirement simply because they could not afford to here,” said Ms. Gergen.

The Sawgrass study indicates that this concern is justified for many seniors in Evanston.

The study shows that the fastest growing segment of Evanston’s senior population is the age group between 75 and 84. In addition, seniors in this age group are typically looking to move to a smaller residence, or a residence with supported-housing, said Ms. Gergen.

“The need for some kind of multi-unit housing that can provide services, as well as assisted living, increases exponentially,” said Ms. Gergen.

The Sawgrass study projects that by 2024, there will be 1,554 households in the 75 to 84 age group in Evanston that have incomes of $40,000 or less. This will be 41% of all seniors in that age group. This income group typically qualifies for affordable housing.

In addition, an additional 319 households in the 75 to 84 age group have incomes between $40,000 and $50,000. This group is earning below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), which the study says is $57,050 for a family of two.

While many households in this age-group may own their own homes, there are limited options to downsize and to move into an independent-living housing, and no option to move into an affordable assisted-living facility in Evanston.

Independent Living Units

The report notes that there are four multi-unit facilities in Evanston that provide affordable, subsidized housing for seniors: Jacob Blake Manor, Ebenezer Primm Tower, Victor Walchirk Apartments, and Jane Pearlman Apartments. These facilities have a total of 299 units, says the Study.

The units at these four facilities are only available for extremely low to very low income limit categories –i.e. less than 50% AMI.

In addition, there are three projects that are in development stages in Evanston that propose to include affordable units. They are: Avidor Evanston Apartments (17 units); CJE Evergreen, 1015 Howard Street (60 units); Evanston Senior Living, 1815 Ridge (2 units); and an addition to Pearlman Apartments (84 units). The total of proposed units is 163 units, some of which may not come to fruition.

The Task Forces says, “Adding these proposed 163 units to the existing 300 affordable units leaves an obvious deficit in available affordable units.”

There are a potential 463 units, and 1,554 senior households in the 75-84 age group who will be earning less than $40,000 in 2014. In addition, there are an additional 319 senior households in the same age group who will be earning between $40,000 and $50,000.

“The numbers themselves demonstrate an immense gap between the need for affordable independent-living units and the availability,” said the Task Force in a submission to the Evanston Community Foundation. “There is an urgent unmet need for more affordable independent living units.”

One surprise coming out of the Study, Ms. Gergen said, is there is a large number of senior households in the mid-range – seniors making about $5,000 too much to qualify for any of the subsidized buildings, but who have neither the monthly income nor the financial resources to consider many of the wonderful senior housing options in Evanston, such as for, example, The Mather, Three Crowns, or Westminster Place of Presbyterian Homes.

The people in the mid-range “are the ones who are most in jeopardy of being forced out of Evanston and left without resources that will allow them to stay,” she said.

Assisted-Living

The need is more severe when it comes to assisted-living facilities for seniors. The report says there are currently three assisted-living facilities in Evanston: The Mather, Three Crowns, and Westminster Place.

The Study does not report the fees charged by The Mather, but the lowest monthly fee for a studio at Three Crowns is reported at $3,365, and the lowest monthly fee at Westminster Place is reported at $5,720. These fees are on top of other charges. These facilities are far out of reach for households earning less than $50,000 a year.

“Evanston has no affordable assisted living units in Evanston. None,” said Ms. Gergen. “Seniors who need affordable assisted-living really have no options in Evanston.”

 “Clearly, affordable assisted living is a critical unmet need in Evanston,” said the Task Force.

Going Forward

The Sawgrass Study also indicates that the number of market-rate assisted-living units that are already in Evanston or that are proposed may be enough, and that the City “could be overbuilt” for market-rate units.

As a result, the Task Force is considering scaling back on its plan to include 50 market rate assisted-living units for seniors, and to increase the number of affordable independent-living units in its planned model.

In addition to obtaining financing, Ms. Gergen said, another impediment to developing senior housing is a need to obtain a license to from the State to build Supportive Living Facilities that use Medicaid funding to fund the facilities, said Sarah Flax, Housing & Grants Administrator for the City of Evanston.

Nonetheless, the Task Force plans to move ahead.

“We do not intend to put the Sawgrass Report on file,” said Ms. Gergen. “We intend to move ahead actively and aggressively in conversations with people who can bring the vision to reality.”