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I am writing in response to the story Developer adds affordable housing to Chicago Avenue high-rise proposal.
It’s been only 20 years since David Hovey, then principal of the real estate development firm Optima, turned Evanston into a “citrus motif,” with the downtown orange, lime, and lemon balconies becoming as recognizable an Evanston feature as the Bean is to Chicago. If nothing else, that tells you all you need to know about who calls the shots on housing development in Evanston.
That was only the beginning. Developers, with the approval of the City Council, fostered a downtown with high-density housing, populated by affluent young professionals, students and empty nesters. Between 1990 and 2010, the growth in the number of small households exceeded Evanston’s overall population growth by a factor of six, according to the Census. The number of housing units with zero or one bedroom grew a dramatic 41.3% during that time.
The proposed new luxury development at 1621-31 Chicago Ave. will only exacerbate Evanston’s mismatch between housing need and existing supply. Most of the apartments in this proposed 180-unit development are studios and one-bedroom units, and the largest units are limited to two bedrooms. But Evanstonians don’t need this housing. According to Evanston’s Consolidated Plan, “Evanston has an ample supply of housing for those who are not low or moderate income.” Moreover, “low and moderate income residents in Evanston have an unmet need for affordable units capable of comfortably housing a large family,” especially for renters. Evanston’s families with children struggle to find housing of appropriate size, at a rent they can afford.
And for single people on the edge of homelessness, the 18 “affordable” units in this development will hardly be affordable to them.
But the bigger issue is this: Developers are using Evanston’s recent affordable housing set-aside requirement as a Trojan horse to get exponentially larger numbers of luxury units shoehorned in. The “affordable” units, which sunset in 30 years anyway, will have no impact on Evanston’s overall trend of becoming increasingly alienating to low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities. Luxury housing promotes displacement, according to Amee Chew of PolicyLink, writing in Shelterforce Magazine, citing numerous national and international studies.
I urge the Evanston City Council to take affirmative control of downtown development. Make sure that it conforms to local need, is modestly sized and promotes a stable and economically integrated community free of the threat of displacement. Evanston doesn’t need more citrus motifs or vertical gated communities.