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Members of the Evanston City Council heard updates on local projects geared toward expanding access to affordable housing in Evanston at its Sept. 20 special meeting.

The presentations also addressed actions made necessary thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as an upcoming proposal to renovate housing facilities at the McGaw YMCA.

Sarah Flax, the City’s division manager for housing and grants, said the City has shifted from immediate response to long-term planning since the last housing update in January. 

“Our priorities in the early stages of COVID was really protecting the health and lives of [unstably housed] people in our City, and also getting them out of temporary housing [and] into permanent housing,” said Flax. “We’ve got a new priority that is looming because of the threat of evictions.”

The pandemic has accelerated already existing challenges, she added, “but we don’t really know yet what we’re going to be dealing with.”

Betty Bogg of Connections for the Homeless said that her organization served about 1,932 Evanstonians (out of a total clientele of 4,055) in fiscal year 2021. Connections for the Homeless centers its service-delivery in eviction-prevention, shelter and housing. 

“Our goal for every person we work with is finding a sustainable housing solution for them,” Bogg said. She added that about 95% of their clients eventually get into sustainable housing, with or without assistance.

Bogg also noted that both a rental eviction and a homeowner foreclosure threat are looming, and added her organization has been helping clients navigate the myriad options for assistance that are currently available. 

Michelle Gilbert from the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, which represents tenants throughout Cook County in housing-related cases, also spoke at the meeting. She said her organization received funding from the City so residents could more easily access legal assistance. 

Flax noted there were affordable-housing projects in various stages of progress at 1011 Howard St., 1930 Jackson Ave. and 1900 Sherman Ave., as well as a lot on South Boulevard. Flax also listed a number of developments made possible by the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.

The Council unanimously approved the City’s 2021 Emergency Solutions Grant ESG), which totaled $156,606. Of that money $129,861 was allocated to Connections for the Homeless, while $15,000 was allocated to YWCA Evansto-Northshore and $11,745 to the City for Administration costs. 

Flax said that while the ESG grant was very “formulaic” in how allocations could be made, it did not require a demonstration of impact from COVID on the community, a restriction many grant programs are presently employing.

Monique Parsons, McGaw YMCA’s president and CEO, also gave a presention about her organization’s men’s residence renovation project, which is in the early planning stages. 

Parsons asked Council members to first imagine being displaced from their homes, then added they should think of what that displacement would have been like in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This is why this renovation is urgent,” Parsons said. “For over 130 years, and I am not proud to say this, McGaw YMCA has not renovated our space at 1000 Grove [Street].”

She noted that, while several YMCAs have pulled back from offering housing, McGaw has remained committed to affordable and accessible facilities for Evanston men. Parsons noted that younger men (which she defined as 18-to-25 years old) are more frequently becoming longtime residents at McGaw. 

The agency likely will need about $12.6 million to fund the renovation, temporarily relocating the residence, furnishings and future maintenance, she said, adding, “Our goal is not just to raise the money but sustain the costs of keeping it and upholding conditions, so we’re not waiting another 130 years to improve upon our residents’ environment.” 

Among the modifications included in the proposal are a new, separate entrance for residents as well as a renovated lobby and bathroom facilities with separate shower stalls. McGaw officials hope to have the renovations completed by 2023.

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