Evanston staff and City Council are currently looking into the idea of purchasing a property at Howard Street and Elmwood Avenue, where a fire occurred in July and displaced multiple residents and local businesses, Council member Devon Reid (8th Ward) said at a virtual ward meeting Thursday, Sept. 29.

The city already owns a parcel of land just two properties to the east of the building where the fire occurred, according to Reid. If the Council does move forward with purchasing the property, the city would try to combine it with the other land it owns to build a mixed-income housing and business development, he said.

The property at Howard and Elmwood was damaged in an early morning fire on July 26. Credit: Evanston Fire Department

An appraiser sent a property value assessment to the city last Friday, and the Council is planning to discuss the matter in executive session at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 10, according to Reid.

Some meeting attendees expressed support for more investment in affordable housing units in a mixed-income setting, though local landlord Tina Paden said she wanted more transparency from the city about these discussions as they are happening.

“This is in very early stages,” Reid said. “The Council will be discussing this for the first time on Oct. 10, and I believe somewhere after that, there will be a public discussion on it with an actual dollar amount attached to it, and we can have a full examination of the plan from there.”

Budget updates

The city is also entering its annual budget season, and the first version of the budget for the upcoming year should become available sometime during the weekend before the Council’s Oct. 10 meeting, Reid also announced Thursday night.

The new budget will likely represent an increase of a few million dollars from last year, he said, as the city tries to fill vacant staff positions and increase salaries and benefits for existing employees given the high inflation rate currently impacting the cost of living.

“I think this year is going to be a turning point for the city in many regards,” Reid said. “This Council is really committed to some innovative financing for the city, and to make sure that we’re providing staff the salary they deserve.”

In the past, the city has usually funded infrastructure projects by taking out bonds, which led to high interest rates on payments, according to Reid. This year, Council is hoping to shift toward opening a line of credit, which should lower the interest rate on city payments, he said.

And a small part of the budget discussion will also include a new refugee resettlement fund proposed by Reid to provide resources for immigrants arriving in Evanston, including some potentially coming on buses from Texas to Chicago, as has happened in recent weeks.

City Council members unanimously approved putting a special order of business on the agenda for the Oct. 10 meeting to discuss this fund, which would include $50,000 this year and $50,000 next year from a $2.5 million surplus currently in the human services fund.

Evanston has yet to take on any migrants from Texas at this point because local shelters and hotels are mostly full, especially with Northwestern football games and other events coming up this fall. The city’s human services staff would manage and distribute the money for any immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers in need, Reid said.

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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