Evanston City Council members Monday, June 13, approved a $3 million allocation to renovate McGaw YMCA’s Men’s Residence – the largest allocation to a single organization of the the city’s federal COVID recovery funds.

Council members voted 6-1 in favor of renovating the facility at 1000 Grove St., the city’s lone single room occupancy (SRO) facility, which houses 172 residents.

Credit: Evan Girard

This is part of  the YMCA’s larger $12.5 million renovation project for the 92-year-old building. It is slated to include the creation of a separate entrance on Maple Avenue, a redesign of congregate spaces and an extensive renovation of individual rooms, Sarah Flax, the city’s Housing  & Grants Manager, told Council members.

“There are a lot of different costs that are involved in this,” she told Council members at their meeting, “but  I think it’s a long over due renovation to the facility that really updates to today’s standards on how people live.”

Furthermore, Flax said, as an SRO facility, the McGaw YMCA does not qualify for most major federal and state funding that goes toward renovation of affordable housing.

In discussion, several Council members raised concern about the large size of the allocation, which will come out the $43.1 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds the city received from the federal government.

“I appreciate the good work the Y does,” said Council member Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, who was the lone person to vote no. “I just think $3 million is a pretty big chunk that’s being requested, especially when we have more requests coming in.”

Council member Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, was among those enthusiastically supporting the request. “I’m going to remind members of the Council that there isn’t one of us that doesn’t believe in affordable housing or haven’t heard from our various residents this is probably one of our top priorities,” he said.

He praised YMCA officials, “just by seeing it over the years, the work that you do, creating safe environments for men to meet with their kids in a very safe place.”

Council member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, pressed city officials on their estimate that the city had now spent about half of its ARPA funds. He said he believes the total is probably closer to $30 million.

“I do not feel we’ve spent money on people and entities that were actually impacted by COVID,” Reid said. “We’ve done an awful lot of nice projects, Northlight [Theatre, $2 million] and other things, but I don’t feel we’ve gotten to the heart of it it. And I’d like us to keep that in mind, particularly as we’re spending the last $12 million.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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