A 60-unit, five-story residential building for low- and middle-income households could be coming to a city property on South Boulevard between Chicago and Hinman avenues, developers announced at a joint 3rd and 9th ward meeting Wednesday night.
The property, which lies between 504 and 514 South Blvd., currently features a city-owned parking lot and four affordable town homes owned by the Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC). If the city ultimately approves the new development, those four households will get vouchers from HACC to find new housing on their own, or they can work with the county to move into vacant units already owned by HACC, according to HACC development associate Jesse Silva.
As plans currently stand, the next year or so will involve a zoning application, community engagement meetings and a refined building design, and construction will start in late 2023 or early 2024, according to Johana Casanova, the senior vice president of development for PIRHL, an affordable housing company that the city selected as the developer for this project. If all goes according to the existing timeline, the building will open to occupants in the summer of 2025.
Of the 60 total units, half will be one-bedroom apartments, and the remaining apartments will either have two or three bedrooms, Casanova said. PIRHL is also working with designer Hooker DeJong and energy consultant DataBasedPlus to ensure the building is all electric and has a net-zero energy output.
Preliminarily, each unit will go to households with an annual income between 30% and 80% of the median income for the area, which ranges from $31,000 to $83,000 for a family of four.
“This is before zoning. This is a community meeting before we enter the zoning process,” Evanston Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said. “What you’ve seen tonight is a pre-zoning site plan and rendering. There will be additional work that would be required before we submit for zoning analysis, so just be aware of that.”
During an open question-and-answer session after the developers and contractors presented their plans, though, several residents who live in the immediate area near the site expressed confusion about the process and frustration with a lack of communication from the city. Doree Stein, for example, lives across from the city parking lot, and she said she was under the impression the development would remove her home and displace her and her family.
But the development will only impact the city parking lot and the four households living in the HACC building on the property, according to Zalmezak, and no one else will be displaced or asked to move. Still, Stein and others said they were still worried about the effect of a multi-year construction project on the neighborhood and its property values.
“If you put a five-story building next to a two-story building, that will completely condemn my green space and condemn my property value that I maintained,” Evanston resident and South Boulevard neighbor Calvin Lynn said. “I developed that and paid taxes on that for over 23 years, and now it’s being taken away from me.”
Developers told Lynn that their design includes green space and trees on his side of the planned affordable housing site, and that the building and its exterior would not encroach on his own property either. Zalmezak also offered to sit down with Stein and Lynn individually to talk through their specific concerns about the site plan and the early development renderings.
Other neighbors said the density of this particular area of the city is already very high, causing issues with traffic, parking and garbage, among other things.
“To me, this is about density,” Evanston resident Joan Agnew said at the meeting. “You just keep cramming stuff into our neighborhood, and you have someone like Mr. Lynn or Doree, who are saying ‘Look, I should be your target audience, and instead of helping me, you’re obstructing our views.'”
Zalmezak said he understood the concerns about density because he lived in the neighborhood for a number of years, and he also acknowledged that a multi-year period of construction is never easy to live through. Still, this development should allow people who work in Evanston to also live in town when they otherwise could not afford to, Zalmezak and Interim Community Development Manager Sarah Flax said.
“There is a certain sacrifice that’s implied in this proposal,” Zalmezak said. “At the end of it, when it opens in 2025, we’re hoping that we will be serving individuals who may actually already live here, or who maybe have grown up here and are looking for housing, but they can’t afford it because they’re a public servant or teacher. This sacrifice, for 18 months of noise, will result in 60 units … to allow people to live here more affordably.”