City Council granted a request Monday, July 11, from Family Focus, one of the city’s most historic social service agencies, for a $3 million allocation in American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds, to renovate and upgrade its longtime home at 2010 Dewey Ave.

This request for COVID-19 relief funds for a private agency is one of the Council’s largest allocations to date.

Family Focus is one of the community’s longest established and most respected social service organizations, dating back to the mid-1970s. In those days, as a storefront, it provided a place for parents with young children to gather. The organization was led for many years by Delores Holmes, retired Fifth Ward Council member.

“The ARPA funds that you will consider this evening will help to begin to realize the vision for a centrally-located home for social service agencies accessible to residents of the Fifth Ward, and others,” said Rose Johnson, a member of Family Focus’s Board of Directors and immediate past president of Family Focus’s Evanston Auxiliary Board, speaking before the vote. “The building’s history and future are very important to present and future users of those social services.”

Delores Holmes.

Johanna Nyden, the city’s Community Development director, wrote in a memo to the Council: “The use of ARPA funds for the Family Focus Evanston Center revitalization directly addresses the myriad of systemic inequities faced by families in Evanston 5th Ward community. Furthermore, the renovation assists in fulfilling the ARPA impact goal of building a bridge to economic recovery for working families.”

Phase One of the project is to focus on the deferred maintenance of the building, estimated to cost $4.107 million. “This includes items that impact indoor air quality or life safety, such as: restroom ADA renovations, window repairs,  roof repairs and maintenance to radiators, boilers and air units,” Nyden wrote.

At the city’s Community Development committee meeting last month, dozens of Evanston residents submitted comments or spoke about the need for a renovation project, the RoundTable reported.

A number spoke of the poor condition of the building’s bathrooms, forcing children and staff to go across the lawn to the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center to use that facility.

JoAnn Avery, the longtime program coordinator at Family Focus, told Council members she polled children in the agency’s after-school program about what they’d like to see happen at Family Focus. She said renovation of the building’s bathrooms was at the top of the children’s list.

“Two weeks ago the kids decided to clean up the grounds,” she said. “And one of them said, ‘Maybe if we can clean up, they see that our building needs to be uplifted.’ ”

Housing Retrofit program gets $1M

At the meeting, Council members also approved another recommendation from the city’s Community Development Committee, supporting a $1 million request from the ARPA funds for the Evanston One-Stop Shop Housing Retrofit program.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), in partnership with Elevate, the Evanston Development Cooperative, and the City of Evanston proposed the launch of a two-year pilot program focused on the retrofit of naturally occurring affordable housing in Evanston through a One-Stop Shop model, wrote Cara Pratt, the city’s Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator, in a memo to the Council.

“The Evanston One-Stop Housing Retrofit Pilot Program concept originated in 2019 when the City of Evanston received a $250,000 Partners for Places grant with support from The Funders Network, The Chicago Community Trust, and the Evanston Community Foundation to explore housing vulnerabilities related to climate change,” Pratt said.

She estimated the total budget for the project at $1 million over two years.

The funds will go “to serve up to 50 housing units with combinations of deep energy and water savings, solar, electrification, de-carbonization and health and safety improvements. The project team will coordinate with contractors and owners to complete deep retrofits on several buildings depending on interested owners, availability of funds, number and size of units, and size of the buildings.”

City officials estimate that about half the $43.1 million Evanston received in ARPA funds as a result of COVID-19 have been spent. City Council member Devon Reid (8th) maintained the total is closer to $30 million of funds already committed to projects.

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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