By: Irv Leavitt | firstname.lastname@example.org | @IrvLeavitt
Having missed the chance to win a few affordable units among the 347 apartments at recently-approved NorthShore 770, Northbrook affordable housing advocates see another chance a block to the south.
“The land that Walmart gave up on – this land is ideal for affordable housing,” said Northbrook resident Marshall Gardner.
One of the problems, he added, “is that as the economy has gone down, everybody is more selfish – more selfish than ever.”
Gardner was one of a half-dozen affordable-housing backers who discussed the challenges they are facing at the Northbrook Public Library Jan. 29.
The Walmart property is intended for “mixed-use” developments, so office or retail with a housing component – and a 10 or 15 percent affordable housing segment – could be readily approved at 1000 Skokie Blvd., all things being equal.
The Walmart proposal wasn’t “mixed-use,” contributing to Northbrook Plan Commission’s 9-0 vote against the project.
Gardner and the others complain that the letters they sent to the Village Board in recent months and years seem to fall on deaf ears, and that many of their fellow residents ignore the values they think are important.
“There’s a fear factor in Northbrook that doesn’t exist in Highland Park: ‘I don’t want property values to go down,’” Burt Ofsaiof said. “They’re a lot more afraid of property values going down than of not doing the right thing.”
Ofsaiof, who, like Gardner, lives in Northbrook’s Crestwood Place senior building, used to live in Highland Park, which has worked to create a significant affordable housing program, unlike its neighbor to the south. He notes that affordable housing programs didn’t lead to lower Highland Park property values.
One of their fellow affordable housing proponents, Lee Goodman, didn’t make the meeting, but noted Thursday that despite the recent lack of live testimony, there were letters and at least one private meeting indicating Northbrook support for affordable housing.
He noted that he and other advocates – supported by Open Communities (formerly Interfaith Housing Center of the North Shore) – “were in contact with the village on a steady basis. We made repeated attempts.
“I can’t imagine that (the Village Board) didn’t know that there are people who want affordable housing in Northbrook.”
Village President Sandy Frum said last month that the Village Board needs an ordinance requiring segments of affordable housing in developments to be able to negotiate with developers for them.
Open Communities head Gail Schechter said at the library session that an ordinance would be good, but it isn’t necessary to negotiate for density bonuses – bigger buildings in return for a few cheaper units.
Another long-time Northbrook affordable housing proponent who didn’t make the meeting was Ted Joseph.
“I think if you put this on a ballot, there is no doubt people would vote to include affordable housing, if what it is were explained properly,” he said Friday. “It’s not Cabrini Green.”
Fanny Sampson-Cohen, one of the advocates at the library meeting, said that some “people think that the village will be suddenly transformed” into a ghetto if an apartment or condo building is built with 10 or 15 percent affordable units.
State standards require 10 percent affordable housing, though there is no clear penalty if municipalities don’t make the grade. Northbrook’s rate is 4.3 percent, and falling.
Schechter would like to see Northbrook build housing for those truly below the poverty line. So would some residents who are advocates.
But they’d like to at least start with affordable housing that fits the state’s definition, which uses a formula based on the Chicago-area median household income (now $61,045).
Those households earning 80 percent or less of the median can afford monthly house payments of 30 percent of that income, according to state guidelines. For renters, those earning up to 60 percent of the median can afford 30 percent of their incomes to go to monthly payments.
That makes affordable family rent $916 per month or less. An affordable monthly mortgage payment, taxes included, would be no more than $1,221.
Northbrook resident Debbie DePalma wants the village to consider a variety of ways to bring cheaper housing. She suggests a zoning change to allow carriage houses in back yards, and encouragement of small, cottage-like homes developed on vacant parcels. She also wants to facilitate and promote shared housing.
It’s an uphill battle, she said. Northbrook, a town that’s about a half of a percent African-American, seems to treat diversity like a disease, she said.
“I don’t know why people seem to have an allergy to being around other people,” she said.
The grass-roots call for Northbrook affordable housing goes back at least 40 years, when the Northbrook Human Relations Commission began a two-year study that indicated that housing was already getting out of reach.
The study indicated that elderly residents, children of residents and single parents had a hard time staying in town or returning, and that few people who worked here could live here.
None of the study’s recommendations were adopted except for the call for senior housing, which led to the 1985 founding of the Crestwood Place senior building.
That building is not subsidized, operating on funding from the rents that its residents pay.
Several multifamily complexes have been built since then, sometimes with requests for a small number of affordable family units that were rejected by the Northbrook Village Board.
“They want all kinds of luxury” units, Goodman said. “Luxury, luxury, luxury. It was as if they thought they were the only people who belonged in this town. They should respond to the citizenry, not just the 1 percent.”