An Evanston City Council committee voted Tuesday night to recommend using $3 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money – Evanston’s largest allocation of those funds to date – to renovate the McGaw YMCA’s Men’s Residence in Evanston.
The unanimous vote by the Housing and Community Development Committee paves the way for a City Council vote on funding the project.
Previously, the Council approved $2 million in federal COVID-19 recovery funds for the Northlight Theatre’s return to Evanston and $1 million for The Aux, a Black business hub and wellness center.
The Men’s Residence, which is on the third, fourth and fifth floors of the McGaw YMCA building, 1000 Grove St., has 156 single-room occupancy units that provide affordable temporary housing for men.
Officials say the apartments have not been updated or renovated in 92 years, since the YMCA moved to its current location.
The facility needs upgrading to improve ventilation, heating, cooling and accessibility, city staff members said during the May 17 committee meeting.
The ARPA funds received by the city would cover almost a quarter of the total $12.6 million renovation costs.
The YMCA has already received a $1.6 million grant for the project from the Thomas F. and Susan P. Moran Family Foundation for pre-development costs like a new entrance and lobby.
“The Men’s Residence renovation project will elevate safety, dignity and privacy for us,” 50 current residents wrote in a letter addressed to the Housing and Community Development Committee.
“The staff has met with us and put our suggestions and needs into the design,” the letter continued. “In planning for the project, we can see they are trying to think of everything from moving, relocation, furnishings and maintenance. All the while, making sure we can still afford to live here as long as we need to.”
To measure the committee’s overall reactions to the project, each member was asked to score the proposal’s feasibility, capacity, budget, return on investment, addressing of inequities/inequality and community support. The average score was 4.69 out of five possible points, and the proposal received a total of 225 points out of a possible 240.
This was the first time the five-point scale was instituted, but it will be used to evaluate subsequent proposals.
City staff members also highlighted in a memo the significance of the McGaw YMCA’s 1929 Tudor-style construction by prominent regional architect Charles H. “Chester” Walcott.
According to the memo, city planners even recommended nominating the building for landmark designation to preserve the YMCA after the building renovations.
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, though, city Housing and Grants Manager Sarah Flax said that while preserving the character of the building is of utmost importance, the city strategy for historic landmark designation can wait until after the Council officially approves the project funding.
“Our architect is a part of this process of making sure that we maintain the integrity of our facility,” she said. “He has the experience, he has the knowledge and we’ve already started having thoughtful conversations with window experts so that they, too, understand how important it is for us to maintain the character and the integrity of our facility.”
Family Focus also asks for funds
After the recommendation vote, Family Focus Evanston staff members proposed to the committee it allocate another $3 million in ARPA funds for its building improvements.
The current Family Focus Evanston location, at 2010 Dewey Ave., is where Foster School – the last neighborhood public school in the Fifth Ward – once stood.
Family Focus provides infant and toddler care, case management services, family advocacy and early childhood education to more than 3,500 people from the Fifth Ward and all over Evanston every year.
Family Focus President and Chief Executive Officer Dara Munson said the building desperately needs basics as the organization had to defer maintenance repairs to its roof, flooring, windows, ceiling and plumbing. All those would be included in the first phase of the $11 million proposed renovation.
The second phase would turn Family Focus Evanston into a state-of-the-art facility with a new HVAC system, energy-efficient lighting and a new build-out, Munson said.
The organization has already secured $1.3 million from the state of Illinois, Chief Financial Officer Dottie Johnson said.
Munson and other Family Focus staff members said they hope to identify other grant partners, and believe $3 million in ARPA funds from the city would spur more donations for its fundraising campaign.
Several committee members, though, expressed concern about the line item in the proposed budget which included the $3.6 million listing of money yet to raised through “other sources of funding to be identified.”
Either way, Flax, Council Member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, and other committee members emphasized that Family Focus provides vital social services to many of the most vulnerable Evanston residents and the city should look to support any long-overdue building upgrades that it needs.
“When you think of the Fifth Ward and West Evanston, [the Community and Economic Development Association] and Family Focus are really synonymous with the Fifth Ward,” Burns said. “It’s one and the same, and what that means is that most people in the Fifth Ward, at some point, someone in their family is going to get services from either CEDA or Family Focus. It is an extended member of your family unit if you live in the Fifth Ward.”
Committee members will evaluate Family Focus’ renovation proposal and vote on the allocation recommendation at the committee’s next meeting in mid-June.
Affordable housing one-stop shop
At the end of the meeting, committee members also heard a short pitch from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Evanston Development Cooperative and affordable housing nonprofit Elevate for $1 million in ARPA funds.
The trio of organizations proposed to use the money over two years for a pilot program setting up a “one-stop shop” to provide all the necessary affordable housing resources and services for Evanston residents in one place.
The presenters – CNT’s Bob Dean, Elevate’s Hank Love, EDC’s Robbie Markus and Evanston Sustainability Coordinator Cara Pratt – told the committee the project is designed to help meet the city’s sustainability and equity goals by improving climate resiliency and access to safe and adequate affordable housing for low-income residents.
Dean and Love said the vast majority of the $1 million will go directly toward providing housing improvements and retrofits in three census tracts in the Fifth and Eighth Wards that have faced disproportionate impacts from climate change and rising housing costs.
As part of the project, EDC has already started building a network of Black-, Hispanic- and female-owned contracting companies to conduct most of the maintenance work, Markus said.
Committee members are also expected to vote on recommending this proposal at the June meeting.