by Irv Leavitt
Kyle Sershon works as a Northbrook store manager, but says the only housing in the village his family can afford is a four-room apartment in an old Techny Road house.
“I guess we’re lucky to have a roof over our heads,” Sershon said. “Some people don’t.”
He and his wife, Crystal, sleep in the living room so their 2-year-old son can have the bedroom. He says the $750 rent is almost half of the $1,600 Sershon earns monthly as the retail manager of Advance Auto Parts. Their income is supplemented by what his wife makes as a part-time cashier.
“We want to stay in the area so our son can go to the good schools, so he has a better life,” said Sershon, 24, who said he and his wife are full-time college students.
Northbrook has less than half the Illinois standard for affordable housing, according to state data, and village affordable housing advocates had asked last year that 15 percent of a proposed 338-unit luxury apartment building be affordable. Rents for the smallest, one-bedroom, units in the building are projected to start at $1,605.
Now, members of the Northbrook Justice Team, a group of social justice advocates, said they don’t believe any affordable housing will be included in the Finger Companies development at 1000 Skokie Boulevard and say they’re planning to push for the village to scrap the whole project and start over.
Meanwhile, the village, the developer and some residents say they generally like the project, and are open to including what officials are calling “attainable housing,” less-expensive housing that still doesn’t meet the definition of “affordable.”
The Finger Companies apartments and a 43,000-square-foot children’s day care and learning center are part of a proposed 18-acre project that would be anchored by a 91,000 square-foot Life Time Fitness club.
Thursday night, the Justice Team, a small cadre formed as an outgrowth of Open Communities, a Winnetka-based housing advocacy organization, met with neighborhood residents who oppose the project for its traffic and density, said Gail Schechter, Open Communities executive director.
Schechter said her group would join forces with the neighbors and call for a stop to the project.
“The first thing we need to do is kill the Life Time project,” she said. “Then we can get something with affordable housing in it.”
Last year, Northbrook Plan Commission member Steve Elisco had called the Life Time project “a campus of exclusivity” with components that did not create a community for the people who would live in the apartments. He was in the majority that voted late in 2015 to recommend the Northbrook Village Board not approve the project. Schechter and her group agree with Elisco, she said.
But some Northbrook residents said they like things as they are. Laurie Baum, 53, said the village already has a good mix of housing, and it’s up to potential employees to decide whether they can both live and work in Northbrook.
“It’s part of your budget; you crunch the numbers and see what you can afford,” she said, adding: “You decide how far you want to drive. Right now, gas is cheap.”
Northbrook trustees scheduled a March 1 session of the planning and zoning committee to discuss changes to traffic circulation and reducing the apartment building’s size. Northbrook Justice Team representatives said they plan to attend the meeting to request the project be dropped entirely.
In the past, trustees have generally expressed favorable opinion toward the project, saying it would bring upscale components to an 18-acre parcel where a succession of developments has failed over a 30-year period.
And Northbrook Barry Nekritz, lawyer and spokesman for Finger, said recently that what rises there doesn’t have to bring everyone in as long as it’s high-quality.
“You’re going to have all brand-new stuff that appeals to different segments of the population,” Nekritz said. “It doesn’t have to appeal to everybody.”
John Faulk, Finger’s executive vice president of development, did not return calls seeking comment.
When affordable housing advocates last fall asked trustees to seek affordable housing in the Finger building, more than half the Northbrook Village Board expressed interest in discussing lower-priced housing, at some level, in the building.
“This may be the last chance to do it,” Trustee Todd Heller said at the time.
But the local advocates back state regulations that make rental housing affordable for people who make 60 percent of average area income, while the village encourages what it calls attainable housing, rents that government workers like police officers and teachers can handle.
“They told us to have ‘Northbrook-attainable,’ and that’s what they (the rents) are,” Nekritz said recently. Projected Finger rents range from $1,605 to $2,875 for one- and two-bedroom apartments.
Village President Sandy Frum said in January that those numbers are low enough, in keeping with her board’s policy.
For the Chicago area, the state defines affordable rent as 30 percent of a salary that’s no more than 60 percent of median area pay, according to the Illinois Housing Development Authority. For a single person, that’s $1,065 rent per month on an annual income of $42,600. For a family of two making $48,650, that’s $1,216 a month, according to the IHDA.
“We’ve created thousands of jobs in Northbrook, and then we make employees drive 90 minutes to and from work every day, because they can’t live near where they work,” said Justice Team member David Borris, who owns Hel’s Kitchen Catering.
He said few of his employees could afford Finger’s apartments.
According to Finger documents, tenants’ annual income would need to range from $64,000 to $115,000 to meet the state’s 30 percent of salary allocation.
State lawmakers have tried to increase the level of affordable housing in suburban Chicago, but stopped short of mandating affordable housing. A 2003 state law requires towns with less than 10 percent affordable housing to periodically file a report on how they plan to increase their stock. The law, however, includes no enforcement mechanism.
Last year, the IHDA required that Northbrook and 67 other towns file affordable housing plans, but Northbrook, Deerfield, Lake Forest and Lincolnshire were among 34 towns that chose not to do so. The “home-rule” towns have maintained since 2004 that the power to regulate their affordable housing isn’t listed in the state constitution.
About 4.4 percent of Northbrook’s housing is classified as affordable, according to the IHDA.
While Northbrook’s 2010 comprehensive plan pledges to include affordable housing, the village has required only one developer to include it in a part of a new project, a building for senior citizens.
Northbrook Chamber of Commerce President Tensley Garris said last month that village businesses struggle to fill lower-wage jobs because employees live far away.
“Back in 2008, 2009, people were willing to travel a lot more,” she said. “We need to think about where (to) get employees from. A more diversified housing stock would make it a little easier.”
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