In a five-hour-long meeting Thursday that stretched past midnight, Fifth and Eighth Ward residents and homeless advocates tangled over the affordability of Evanston housing, the impact of zoning on homeless and the city’s budget.

Almost half of the households in Evanston pay more than 30% of their income on housing, according to a study by Connections for the Homeless, Forces for Affordable Housing and consulting firm ZoneCo. 

Maintaining affordable housing is crucial because of its close ties to homelessness, said Rodney Orr of Connections. Each time rent increases by $100, homelessness increases by 9%, he said.

Zoning and housing

Zoning has a big impact on housing as well as the rest of community life, Orr noted.

The Evanston Zoning Code doesn’t mention equity, and as a result, it doesn’t prioritize equity either. The code is focused on lessening congestion and preserving property values.

Part of the City of Evanston zoning map. Credit: City of Evanston

Zoning affects residents’ access to public spaces, parks, amenities, transportation and more. It also impacts the accessibility of buildings and the schools children attend. Zoning causes many equity issues like segregation and poverty that disproportionately impact people of color, Orr explained.

“I think about people who live next to industrial zoned areas and how that can have an impact on their health,” said Fifth Ward City Council Member Bobby Burns.

Evanston Cradle to Career and the city has hosted several Data Walks showing how Evanston’s history of redlining negatively impacted the wellbeing of Black residents and people living in the Fifth Ward. Redlining also had a role in the city’s zoning.

“It’s really an important issue,” said Evanston Cradle to Career Community Engagement Director Kimberly Holmes-Ross during the meeting. “It decides what happens in your neighborhood. So it’s huge.”

Holmes-Ross said Evanston Cradle to Career plans to host more Data Walks virtually. 

The next stage of the Equitable Zoning Project is to conduct a survey of residents’ experience renting in the city and identifying affordable housing. 

The project is also conducting focus groups of residents to evaluate how zoning impacts individuals. The first 100 residents that sign up will receive a $25 gift card, Orr said.

The majority of the ward meeting’s public comment period was about how to create affordable housing in the Fifth Ward. Longtime affordable housing building owner in the Fifth Ward Tina Paden said the city’s plans for affordable housing demonize landlords and leave them out of the conversations.

“How are you having all of these conversations about affordable housing when landlords aren’t even at the table? You don’t know my struggle,” Paden said. 

Paden said that she lost 12 months of rent because there was a shooting in one of her buildings, and she didn’t receive any assistance from the city or the government.

“Where is my help?” she asked.

2023 budget

The city’s Chief Financial Officer Hitesh Desai walked residents through a slideshow of the city’s 2023 proposed budget. 

Mayor Daniel Biss said he didn’t support the City Council’s proposed budget because he said its increase in spending isn’t justified. The city is proposing a budget of $402 million, which is an increase of $42.1 million from the fiscal year 2022 adopted budget.

Burns and Eighth Ward Council Member Devon Reid asked questions throughout the presentation. Among the first questions were about the water fund showing a $23.6 million increase.

The city is required to replace all its lead service lines over the next 20 years, which is estimated to cost $168 million in 2021 dollars.

Burns and Reid explained that the $23.6 million increase for the amount the loans from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will cover.

“I wonder why the city is reflecting this as a city expenditure this year on our budget, given that the money will be paid back over the next 20 to 30 years in reality,” Reid said. “As opposed to the expenditure being truly made this year out of the taxpayers.”

Property taxes make up 25% of the city’s revenue within the general fund, which is $55 million, Desai explained. There are other taxes that can generate more revenue for the city, such as the sales tax, Reid said.

“I’m pushing to make the beaches free for not only Evanston residents but for Chicago residents because we can use a natural resource that God created, not the city, to attract people to come to our city to spend some money here,” Reid said. “They can come and spend some money, give us some sales tax and hightail it back without using the bulk of our resources.”

The 2023 proposed budget also provides for more city staff positions and meeting public safety pensions. The City Council will have a special meeting to discuss those two points at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 7, in the council chambers.

Fifth Ward announcements

The city closed on seven parcels of land on Jackson Avenue and Emerson Street in the Fifth Ward. That land wasn’t being cared for and fell into disrepair, Burns said. Now that the city officially owns the land, Burns said they can begin community engagement to decide what the community wants to do with the property.

The city is working on purchasing 1808 Hovland Court in the ward. The building has been a blight in the community for about a decade, Burns said. Burns estimated they will close on the property in two to three months and then schedule community engagement meetings to figure out what the community wants to do with it.

Some upcoming events are the Youth Town Hall 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 1 at the Morton Civic Center and Coffee with the Chief from 9 to 11 a.m. Nov. 30 in the Fifth Ward at Double Clutch Brewing Co., 2121 Ashland Ave.

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the Evanston RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative...

Leave a comment

The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *