Editor’s note: The Equity and Empowerment Commission made several key moves on major Evanston issues during its meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 19. For more on the meeting, please read about its gender equity recommendation.
Maintaining affordable housing and fending off gentrification was another focus at the Wednesday, Oct. 19, meeting of the Equity and Empowerment Commission.
The commission approved several strategies to deter residential real estate developers from buying land and residential properties to then hike up the cost of rent.
The commission voted in favor of establishing an anti-predatory ordinance, which would fine residential real-estate developers between $2,000 to $10,000 if they launch unsolicited, repeated attempts to push homeowners to sell their properties.
The commission also voted to increase the demolition tax for residential properties to make the cost of destroying living spaces a heftier price.
Back in April, the commission asked the Evanston community to share its input on racial equity issues via a survey. Now, the commission is working on ways to share the results of the survey with the public and city.
Increasing affordable housing demolition tax
The city’s current affordable housing demolition tax means it costs $15,000 for demolishing a single-family detached residential structure. To demolish a multi-family, single-family attached or two-family residential structure, it’s $15,000 or $5,000 for each unit, whichever is more expensive.
But the tax hasn’t changed since 2012, said commission chair Karla Thomas, when it increased from $10,000 to the current $15,000.
Newer construction homes were selling for a median price of $1.15 million and an average price of $1.19 million, according to Thomas. But as of April this year, the prices of newly built homes have increased.
The median price of homes is now $1.38 million and the average price is $1.5 million.
“If you consider anybody knocking down a building downtown, they’re probably gonna build a high rise of some sort, or at least a medium rise and the money is more than there – if you consider somebody knocking down a single family home is paying $20,000,” Thomas said.
The commission agreed to increase the cost of demolishing a single-family detached residential structure to $20,000. For multiple units, it’s also $20,000 or $4,000 for residential structures with two to five units. It’s $7,500 for each unit if the residential structure has more than five units.
The changes to the tax will also require it to be adjusted every Jan. 1 based on the consumer price index.
But after discussion among the commission members, the commission decided to cap the number of units at 20 in case there is a mid-size high rise that’s being demolished.
Thomas explained that high rise developments and demolition projects go through an entirely different planning process with the city. And the demolition tax is directly deposited into the city’s affordable housing fund.
The commission will pass all its recommendations to the Planning and Development Committee, which meets Oct. 24.
Maintaining building unit count
The commission also voted to recommend prohibiting permits for multi-unit buildings with between two and four units that want to alter the number of units.
“The purpose of this is to reduce the displacement of low- to moderate-income residential units, and housing stocks, specifically two- to four-flat units that often provide naturally occurring affordable housing in Evanston,” Thomas said.
Although the unit count has to remain the same, the unit configuration doesn’t. People can change the location of the rooms so long as the unit count remains the same.
Thomas explained that homes in the Second, Fourth and Ninth Wards are undergoing significant renovations to convert them from a two flat to a single family home. There have been 25 deconversions in the past 13 years, about two every year, commission member Jane Grover said.
The fact that it is specific to the three wards is not an accident, said Thomas, as they have the most proximity to wealth and whiteness.
“They’re only going to do that in places where there’s proximity to the fancy homes in the first place, so they’re going to keep pushing the affordable housing out to the ends and limits,” Thomas said. “We can see the areas that it’s hitting the most are where we have that mix and that proximity to whiteness.”
The commission’s recommendation now moves to the Planning and Development Committee.
Thomas and commission member Darlene Cannon will be meeting outside of EEC to discuss ways to share the data collected from the Evanston Equity Community Survey. The survey, now closed, collected 655 responses.
The survey is the commission’s first of what it hopes will become an annual effort. It attempts to measure residents’ opinions on racial equity in the city as well as the city’s role in addressing that and satisfaction with city services and housing affordability.