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During a Housing and Community Development Committee meeting held Tuesday, July 19, Evanston Housing and Grants Manager Sarah Flax said she and other city staff members have developed a proposal to recommend Evanston uses $1.3 million in ARPA money earmarked for affordable housing to develop a permanent homeless shelter in the city.
“One of the reasons this funding is so important is it’s the first time the federal government has released money for shelters,” Flax said. “It’s an opportunity that we’ve never had before.”
Next week, members of the city’s housing staff, including Flax, will kick off the process by meeting with representatives from the Coalition to End Homelessness in Evanston to discuss the federal grant money and potential uses for it such as the shelter idea.
Money for homeless assistance
The $1.3 million is not enough for a brand-new affordable housing development, Flax said, but it could be sufficient for the city to open a permanent, full-time shelter.
After meeting with the Coalition to End Homelessness, which includes the City of Evanston, the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County, Connections for the Homeless and Interfaith Action of Evanston, city staff will present their draft allocation plan for this money to members of the committee at their next meeting on Aug. 16.
In April 2021, the City of Evanston received a one-time grant of nearly $1.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds specifically designated for homeless assistance.
According to the parameters for using those funds established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city can spend that money on such things as a affordable housing, shelter units or rental assistance.
Evanston has until September 2030 to use the money, but it must first submit an allocation plan for approval. If City Council were to approve that recommendation down the road, the city would use that money to acquire a building to use as a shelter or rehabilitate an existing structure, a memo from city staff stated.
Small Landlord Task Force
On Tuesday, the committee also heard from the Small Landlord Task Force, which was created to brainstorm ways to provide financial assistance to local small landlords who lost income during the pandemic.
Housing and Economic Development Analyst Ana Elizarraga said the task force ultimately decided to define small landlords as those who operate between one and 15 units, while any residents who own and rent between 16 and 30 units count as medium landlords.
Task force members also developed a questionnaire for the city to send out to Evanston landlords asking for the number of units they own, how many were vacant or delinquent between March 2020 and September 2021, and the estimated income and expenses for 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Through that questionnaire, the committee hopes to identify the amount of ARPA funding it should request from City Council when providing financial assistance to eligible small and medium landlords.
“I think we’re in a really good place,” said Council member Devon Reid, Ninth Ward. “Moving forward with the survey is where we need to be, and I think it was really key to keep the survey short and concise.”
City staff will also conduct a “Landlord Resources Webinar” with representatives from the Metropolitan Tenants Organization and the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 10, Elizarraga said.
Local small landlord Carlis Sutton said during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting that he desperately needs financial support after sustaining significant losses during the pandemic and eviction moratoriums. Sutton also added he often has to walk through standing water to take out the garbage because the alley near his property is unpaved.
However, that particular alley is now scheduled for maintenance improvements later this year, according to Council member Bobby Burns, Fifth Ward,
“Three units is all I have. Lost income has been $25,000 a year for the last three years,” Sutton said. “I’ve had to pay property taxes, utilities, repairs. Not one penny coming in. It’s absolutely disgraceful, the way that small landlords have been treated under this ARPA plan.”