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

The City Council currently has a goal to “expand affordable housing.” This is great news because every ward in Evanston has capacity for more affordable housing. Plus, it is becoming clear across the country what types of housing solutions work. In Evanston, the challenge is to determine which of the many possible solutions best suit the needs of each of our different wards.

We have found that many Evanstonians are eager to consider how different solutions complement the assets and deficits of their own neighborhoods (see sidebar). We believe it is time to engage the broader community as the City works to make the decisions, find the funding, pass the laws, and make the choices needed to expand the supply of affordable housing.

Last spring and summer, Joining Forces for Affordable Housing (a program of Connections for the Homeless)  and Reclaim Evanston co-hosted ward-specific meetings to get feedback from residents on possible affordable housing solutions. You can read about the range of feedback we received in this article on the Joining Forces website.

The strongest opinions we heard on housing came from the 5th, 6th, and 7th wards, which have limited diversity in current housing stock. Because other wards have more variations, the range of likely affordable housing solutions for them is broader. We are focusing on the 5th, 6th, and 7th wards here to show how distinctly different solutions can be effective in distinctly different neighborhoods.

Feedback from 5th Ward Members

Evanston’s 5th ward was historically home to an active, cohesive, and thriving Black community. Although the Black population of Evanston is decreasing, this rich cultural heritage remains an asset in the ward. Another asset is the greatest supply of “naturally occurring affordable housing” in Evanston, with many modestly sized single-family homes and a range of two-flats, duplexes, and small apartment buildings. This housing is at risk because much of it is aging, and some has already been bought to be flipped.

Also good news is the legacy of redlining, imposed upon the current 5th ward at the beginning of the last century to create a neighborhood for Evanston’s Black population. The area is still constrained by the practices and policies imposed at that time. The ward has Evanston’s largest concentration of Black residents and the highest number of low-income residents. Additionally, the ward has no school, no grocery store, and lacks other amenities. The residents of the 5th ward have expressed anger and frustration at unsuccessful attempts at revitalization, threats of gentrification, lack of affordable choices outside the 5th ward, and the racial and socio-economic segregation that the 5th ward represents.

During our meetings, 5th ward residents shared many affordable housing ideas to help their community. Proposed solutions include:

  • Development of more affordable housing within and outside of the 5th ward.
  • Economic development to create jobs and attract commerce.
  • Programs to support homeownership and financial equity for low-income residents.
  • Financial assistance such as subsidies to support households that have significant housing cost burden.
  • Programs to help low-income owners to repair and maintain their homes.

Feedback from 6th and 7th Ward Members

Both the 6th and 7th wards are dominated by relatively large single-family homes and lots. These neighborhoods are considered municipal assets and contribute to Evanston’s reputation as an anchor community within the prosperous North Shore. The 6th and 7th wards are primarily White, have high-ranking schools, are amenity-rich, and are mostly designed for people with access to a car. These wards are particularly exclusive of low-income people.

However, many meeting participants expressed concern about 6th and 7th ward residents currently struggling with affordability, including:

  • Aging residents who want to downsize within the ward
  • Families with aging parents with limited mobility
  • Households who need caregivers living nearby
  • Parents with adult children with lower incomes

Residents were eager to discuss ways to make their communities more racially and socio-economically diverse to address what they acknowledge to be a deficit, while preserving the many assets of their communities. Housing solutions they considered likely for their neighborhoods included:

  • Using existing or new coach houses or other accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as a source of affordable housing.
  • Eliminating single-family zoning requirements that prohibit multiple-unit buildings such as two- and three-flats.

Next Steps

Joining Forces is encouraged that the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee is actively gathering community input, and we are providing feedback at the Committee’s upcoming meeting (see side bar). We hope that the forthcoming Affordable Housing Plan will consider ward-specific characteristics and concerns. Evanston has the opportunity with this Plan to provide an unprecedented range of housing choice throughout Evanston, but it will take participation and buy-in from members from every ward in order to succeed.

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.