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

Background

In 2014 the mayor of Evanston appointed an Age-Friendly Evanston Task Force that was charged with a mandate to develop an Age-Friendly Action Plan for the City based on the World Health Organization (WHO) model.  The WHO model identifies eight aspects of city life and establishes age-friendly guidelines for each.  The Task Force Housing Committee is one of the eight committees formed to focus on one of these aspects.  On June 20, 2016, the City Council approved the Age-Friendly Action Plan which included recommendations from each of the eight committees.

Two of the high-level recommendations in that report were to create affordable rental units for older adults and to develop subsidized assisted living for seniors. As the report states, “Assisted Living units provide an alternative to nursing home care for low-income seniors and persons with disabilities. They combine apartment-style housing with personal care and other services so residents can live independently with minimal support at a lower cost than is available on the open market.” (p. 20)

The first recommended steps towards achieving these goals were to “develop multi-unit rental buildings which provide a flexible option for seniors who are on fixed or reduced incomes and no longer can adequately maintain their homes…and to identify an on-going committee or working group to research the feasibility of establishing a facility in Evanston that provides subsidized assisted living” (p. 20). Between 2016 and 2018, the Housing Committee focused on this step, exploring what was required to do a feasibility study, researching consultants who do such work, developing a request for proposal, raising funds to pay for a study, and then commissioning the study. As a result, a Market Study, funded in large part by the City of Evanston and the Evanston Community Foundation, was conducted by a company called Sawgrass Partners. The completed Market Study was delivered to the Housing Committee in May 2019.

The Market Study was prepared for internal use by the City and is not available for public distribution. However, the Committee shared the summary below, which shows the urgent need for affordable housing for seniors—both for independent living and for assisted living.

Summary of Findings

The Market Study focused on the housing needs of senior citizens living in zip codes 60201 and 60202, including the need for independent living and assisted living units at both market and affordable rates. The Study considered housing that is currently available located in those zip codes as well as in the surrounding suburbs. The study was based on a proposed new development of 50 affordable independent living units, 50 affordable assisted living units, and 50 market-rate assisted living units.

Here are the key conclusions from the Market Study:

  • Between 2019 and 2024, the fastest growing segment of Evanston’s senior population will be people who are between 75 and 84 years old.
  • It is projected that in 2024, approximately 41% of households age 75 and older (1,554 households) will have annual incomes of $40,000 or less, financially qualifying them for affordable independent and assisted living services.
  • There is no way to know how many of these people will need independent living units versus assisted living units in 2024; however, we do know that there are not currently enough units available of any kind to accommodate them.
  • At the time the Study was prepared, Sawgrass projected that there are currently 300 affordable independent living units for low-income seniors in Evanston and the immediately surrounding suburbs, with up to 163 additional units planned for seniors at various levels of income under 80% of the Area Median Income (around $67,000 a year), not all of which will become reality.
  • They also projected that there are currently NO affordable assisted living units existing in or near Evanston and none planned.
  • However, there are currently 157 market-rate assisted living units in the community, with 131 additional units potentially in the works. Sawgrass Partners indicated that if all the potential new units actually come online, the market could reach “concerning” penetration rates by 2024 if further development of market-rate assisted living continues, meaning that there could be a surplus of such units.

These findings show an obvious deficit in available affordable units, both for independent living and for assisted living, simultaneously showing a market that is moving towards saturation in terms of market-rate units.

Next Steps

The Age-Friendly Evanston Task Force was commissioned to do its work between 2014 and 2019. The Task Force completed a great deal during its existence, due to the tenacity and commitment of its members. Now the Task Force has been de-commissioned, meaning that it no longer exists as a part of the City government. However, the Housing Committee wants to continue its work and has decided to continue its existence as the Age-Friendly Housing Committee of Joining Forces for Affordable Housing.

In that form, the Committee is doing the following for the short term:

  • Providing the findings of the Market Study to both the Housing and Homelessness Commission and the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee and asking both to re-consider and take action on the housing-related recommendations from the 2016 Age-Friendly Task Force Report.
  • Advocating with the City of Evanston and exploring any opportunities to identify funding sources and locations for development with potential site owners and developers of affordable independent and assisted living facilities.

Joining Forces asks that the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee consider the full range of people who need affordable housing as they begin to develop their plan. We believe that the Plan needs to include strategies to address the specific needs of lower income senior citizens, according to the work done by the Age-Friendly Housing Committee, as well as the needs of other stakeholder groups including low-income working families and people with disabilities.