A “one-stop shop” could let Evanston residents access affordable housing resources, climate-resilient property improvements and other basic housing needs through a single point of contact.
Evanston officials debated the possibility of setting up such a program at the Feb. 15 meeting of the city’s Housing and Community Development Committee. One big challenge: The committee isn’t aware of any other city with a similar program to use as a model.
Cara Pratt, the city’s Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator, presented committee members with a report from the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) on the possibility of setting up an “affordable, resilient housing retrofit program.” From 2019 through 2021, CNT conducted research for the report by mapping out target areas of Evanston with the most social and climate vulnerability, assessing buildings around the city and gathering feedback from stakeholders, Pratt said at Tuesday’s meeting.
This kind of one-stop program could play a pivotal role in making much-needed improvements to Evanston’s housing infrastructure, according to Pratt and several committee members. Providing an all-encompassing service could help address issues like widespread lead pipes, lead-based paint and asbestos in Evanston homes, for example.
But a similar program does not currently exist in another city for Evanston to model itself after, according to Sarah Flax, the city’s Housing and Grants Manager.
Oak Park and Ann Arbor, Michigan, are among several places, like Evanston, looking into the usefulness of a one-stop shop for housing needs, but the committee will mostly have to rely on its own expertise and innovation if it wants to move forward with this project.
Still, Pratt highlighted some benefits for the Evanston community if the committee were to move forward with this type of program.
“Ultimately, the impacts and benefits of this one-stop shop would be wealth creation, poverty reduction, the preservation of intergenerational wealth, a huge environmental impact in terms of improving the quality of homes, reducing our carbon footprint at home and improving community health,” Pratt said. “And this one-stop shop would link together service customers and service providers, so that homeowners can directly reach contractors that were vetted by the city to conduct the projects.”
According to the model envisioned by CNT in its report, a fully integrated one-stop shop would allow an interested resident to start by meeting with a program representative at a housing resource center. The resident would have the opportunity to apply for and enroll in the program, receive a full home assessment and choose a contractor approved by the city to complete repairs and improvements specifically focused on climate resilience and safety.
Pratt said the CNT report recommended launching the one-stop shop project using relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which the city is in the process of allocating. Beyond ARPA money, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has recently rolled out a climate action plan, and Flax said there could be other sources of federal grant money for the project.
“If we can get a process and a program up and running, then that can get us ready to apply for different sources of funding,” Flax said.
Among other issues that came up in discussion, Evanston resident and committee representative Loren Berlin expressed hesitation about the possibility of such a program basically subsidizing the negligence of bad-actor landlords by helping them complete discounted home improvements.
Fifth Ward Council member Bobby Burns responded by saying that if the city can improve how it regulates properties, then problematic landlords should not be as much of an issue in the future anyway.
Berlin also said that, at least when beginning the program, the city should focus on areas in Evanston that have seen disproportionate impacts from problems like flooding, climate change and lead pipes. Earlier in the discussion, Flax mentioned that local census tracts have a relatively stark difference in life expectancy based on available resources, housing infrastructure and quality of life.
“It seems to me like that would make a lot of sense, to focus very narrowly on a census tract that we know is confronting these issues every day, as evidenced by that distressing difference in life expectancy,” Berlin said.
According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy from 2010 to 2015 in Evanston ranged from 75.5 years in west Evanston’s census tract 8092 to 88.8 years in northeast Evanston’s census tract 8088.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the committee set up a working group to brainstorm ideas for gathering feedback from residents on the effectiveness of existing landlord-tenant services.
Additionally, members set up a subcommittee, the Small Landlord Task Force, to help develop relationships with local mom-and-pop landlords and provide resources to them.
The committee is scheduled to meet next on March 15.
Another service of this ‘one stop shop’ for homeowners could be to assist in implementing the provisions of the new Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, specifically the ones to make solar available at little to no cost for low income families.
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