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A developer’s proposal to build a 16-story high rise apartment building for older adults is moving forward despite criticism from some about changes to the project and loss of units for the “missing middle” the project purported to target.
At the Nov. 9 City Council Planning & Development Committee meeting, aldermen voted to recommend in favor of the proposal moving to the Council for a final vote, likely at the Council’s Nov. 23 meeting.
The Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC), the developer on the project, is proposing to construct a 16-story, 168-unit building with 80% of the units to be occupied by at least one person age 55 or older.
The building would go up next to the HACC’s existing 11-story, 100-unit Jane R. Perlman Apartments at 1900 Sherman Avenue.
During citizen comment at the meeting, speakers differed over how the project would address Evanston’s affordable housing needs, long considered a top City priority.
In the proposal, HACC officials presented to the Council last July, plans called for 36 units at market rate, 60 units for what they termed the “missing middle” – that is, individuals with middle incomes who are not eligible for subsidies but who also cannot afford market-rate rents in the area – and 24 units for those in the low- to-moderate income range.
HACC’s revised proposal now in front of the City calls for a total of 51 affordable units, 34 of them to be allocated to households with incomes at 50% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI). In addition, the developer proposes to provide 10% of the units, or 17 units, at 80-120% of the area’s AMI.
In a presentation at the Nov. 9 meeting, Claire Waistell, speaking in behalf of a group of neighbors, the 1900 Sherman Concerns, who have registered opposition to the project, told aldermen that the Housing Authority in its proposal “has significantly decreased the number of affordable units they’re offering while significantly increasing their expectations on changes in our zoning code.”
The developers are complying with the city’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance by including the minimum 20% units – the 34 units for lower income households, she said.
She said the 17 units the Housing Authority is proposing to provide, qualifies as a reduced “top-of-the market” rent to middle- income households.
“However, we disagree that this is the best the Housing Authority should be expected to create for Evanston,” she told aldermen, “especially since there is no offering at the City’s prioritized moderate income level of 50 to 80%.”
In addition, she said, when nearby residents first received a postcard alerting them to the project, “neighbors were surprised that what began as something called an addition (to the 11-story Pearlman building) had become a 16-story additional building of significant bulk and scale that required a zoning change.
“The bottom line is that Evanston is being offered 17 apartments for middle- income [residents] in exchange for a permanent high-rise outside downtown that requires a change to commercial zoning in a residential neighborhood.”
During Council discussion, Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, asked HACC Executive Director Richard Monocchio about the change in the building’s concept and design from his presentation to the Council last year.
Mr. Monocchio acknowledged that the Housing Authority intended to try to make the project “commensurate with the building we already own [Pearlman]. But after spending a pretty intensive year of analyzing and trying to come up with a model that worked and could be financed, and we could afford – and also provide some scale for affordable housing – it became clear we had to go this high,” he said about the 16-stories.
He acknowledged that a few years ago he might have said during a discussion on affordable housing “that we would like to see it commensurate with the building next door, but the fact is we did our due diligence and explored it and looked at the financial ramifications of the constructions costs, the design costs. It became clear that to build an architecturally significant building at this corner, this very critical corner, that we would need that much height, that much density.”
William James, a consultant to the Housing Authority, acknowledged that officials thought about a 50% affordable housing goal initially.
“But as it turned out, as we actually moved forward to get conventional financing with a bank,” officials locked on to their current formula, where “we think that two thirds of market rate and one third affordable is a really a very healthy ratio.”
In discussion, several aldermen spoke to the affordable housing that the project would provide, in giving the proposal their support.
A number of affordable housing advocates had made similar arguments during public testimony earlier.
“This Council and this community has really identified and focused on creating affordable housing options and opportunities,” said Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward. “And for the most part none of them end up being perfect, and this is an evolution, I think. If you took all of the complaints for any given project and applied them, what would ? We wouldn’t get any of them built and we wouldn’t be getting any affordable housing.”
Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, pointed out that affordable housing for low- and moderate-income [people] was “just on the top of the list for almost anybody we talked to, so there’s clearly a need for this project,” she said.
“I recognize that the building is taller than I would have preferred, and the residents would have preferred, but I do think high-density residential development is appropriate for this location. I think if it were a shorter building it would not be as attractive.”
Ald. Wynne pointed out how hard the Council has worked, “to get even two or three, or handful of affordable units,” in projects, “and the difficulty that that entails.”
The Committee members voted 5-0 to move the issue to the Council.
Before the vote, Alderman Judy Fiske, in whose First Ward the site is located, abstained herself from the discussion.
Ms. Fiske said that a longtime friend Jeanne Lindwall is employed by Camiros Limited, the consultant to the Housing Authority on the 1900 Sherman project.
She said, then, to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest and to ensure public trust in the process, she would be abstaining from the discussion and vote on the proposed development, both at the Committee and Council level.
During citizen comment earlier, Clare Kelly, a longtime activist and First Ward resident, raised concern about the appropriateness of Ms. Lindwall’s having been named to the Plan Commission when the Sherman Avenue project was before the group earlier this year.
Ald. Wynne, chairing the meeting, held up discussion to ask Scott Mangum, the City’s Planning and Zoning Manager, about Ms. Kelly’s charge.
Mr. Mangum said that Ms. Lindwall recused herself from the issue when it first went to the Commission in September and was not present at the October meeting when the issue was still with the Commission.
The City video of the Sept. 9 Plan Commission shows Ms. Lindwall announcing before the discussion of the 1900 Sherman project that she would be recusing herself from the discussion because of a potential conflict.