On January 21, a key topic at the Evanston City Council meeting will be progress on creating more affordable housing in our community. Joining Forces for Affordable Housing is guest-authoring five editorials to inform and engage our community around this issue, which affects wellbeing and future opportunities for all of us.

Submitted by Sue Loellbach, Manager of Advocacy for Connections for the Homeless and leader of Joining Forces for Affordable Housing

Expand Affordable Housing Options” is a goal set forth by Evanston’s City Council. The City’s Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee has been working through a long process to create a new Affordable Housing Plan. City staff and aldermen have been working to change ordinances and programs to make more diverse housing options possible.

However, the shortage of affordable housing continues, with no significant increases in the number of affordable units coming online in years. It is time for Evanston to make the decisions, find the funding, pass the laws, and make the choices that will create more affordability and thereby strengthen the fabric of our community, create equity, and bolster our economy.

The need for more Affordable Housing in Evanston is urgent and growing. We know that 40% (11,387) of Evanston households spend more than 30% of their income on housing, positioning them as housing cost burdened. But what does this really mean? It means that a family of 4 must earn at least $69,000 in order to afford the average 2-bedroom apartment in Evanston. That’s the equivalent of working almost 3 minimum wage jobs.1 It means that the average senior citizen who gets $17,640 in social security, the Certified Nursing Assistant earning an average of $28,000, and the first-year teacher at ETHS earning $58,000 annually can’t afford the housing that’s available.

Seniors, teachers, nursing assistants, adult children taking care of aging parents – these are the people who call Connections for the Homeless when they have run out of options. Many of them are spending much more than 30% of their incomes on housing, often more than 70% or 80%.

The impact of this housing cost burden (spending more than 30% of annual income on housing) is evident and expensive. Housing cost burden is a constant stressor that leads to physical and mental health problems, unemployment, domestic violence, eviction, and homelessness. The effects on children are thoroughly studied and include short-term problems like depression and school absences and long-term problems such as permanent delays in cognitive development and reduced income potential as adults. The impact on our community includes the costs of increased health care, emergency, and social services, and reduced tax revenue. The opportunity costs of housing cost burden in our community are immeasurable.

What Joining Forces Is Doing About It

Joining Forces for Affordable Housing (a program of Connections for the Homeless) is a coalition of nearly 100 citizens and 30 non-profit organizations and faith communities which are making affordable housing a real priority for Evanston, not just a frequent topic of conversation.

Joining forces is organizing our community. Over the last year Joining Forces for Affordable Housing has conducted meetings in each of Evanston’s wards and coordinated community forums around the Civic Center’s “Undesign the Redline” exhibit, to listen to neighbors and collect feedback on their housing situations. 

Joining Forces is informing the public. Over the next five weeks, we will share the results of our community research in The RoundTable and make recommendations about how each of you can support the development of more affordable housing. Joining Forces is providing input at upcoming City Council and commission meetings. We will share the feedback we gather as well as best practices from other communities that are aggressively and successfully tackling their housing challenges.

Joining Forces is successfully advocating at the local and state levels. Joining Forces is committed to advocating for policies that help neighbors access and maintain their housing. We advocated for the Village Board’s approval of the affordable Cleland Place in Wilmette, for passage of the recent Just Housing ordinance in Cook County, and for a nearly twofold increase in the Homelessness Prevention line item in the State of Illinois budget. 

What Can You Do?

Get informed about the issue by attending an upcoming Joining Forces meeting or presentation at a City Council or commission meeting (see side bar). Visit the Joining Forces website, follow us on social media, and sign up to receive our newsletter. Read our upcoming editorials here in the Roundtable.

Get engaged. Contact your City of Evanston alderman and tell them that you care about affordable housing and want to see a real commitment to bringing more of it online. With affordable housing, people can reach their full potential as human beings and participate as active members of our community. With affordable housing, we can strengthen our community, fortify its economy, and build on its inherent vibrancy. Joining Forces remains hopeful that this work will help the City—its elected officials, staff, committees and commissions, and residents—to take action to make affordable housing a priority.

Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, a program of Connections for the Homeless, is a coalition of non-profits, communities of faith, and individuals that are working to increase housing affordability in north suburban Cook County. To learn more about Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, please visit http://joiningforces.connect2home.org.

Connections for the Homeless is a non-profit organization committed to serving and catalyzing the community to end homelessness, one person at a time through eviction prevention, housing, and shelter programs. To learn more about Connections for the Homeless, please visit www.connect2home.org.

1 According to www.rentjungle.com, the average price of a 2-bedroom apartment in Evanston in November of 2019 was $1,726. To be considered affordable, housing should cost no more than 30% of a household’s income. So in order to afford an apartment at $1,726 a month, a household would need to have income of at least $69,040 ($1,726 x 12 months x .30). The minimum wage in Evanston is $12 an hour. A minimum wage worker working 40 hours a week (2,080 hours) earns $24,960.