By Bob Seidenberg
Evanston City Council members approved Nov. 23 their first major changes to an affordable housing ordinance in nearly eight years, hoping to spur developers to include more affordable units in their projects.
The changes cover all new developments with five or more units in areas close to transit stops and 10 or more units outside those areas.
In transit zones, 50 percent of the units would have to be affordable for households at 80 percent of the average median income, the ordinance states.
The ordinance also substantially hikes the fee developers would have to pay if they choose not to provide the set amount of affordable units, from the current $40,000 per unit to $100,000 per unit if in a transit-oriented zone and $75,000 per unit if outside.
Voting in support during the meeting, Ald. Jane Grover, 7th, called the ordinance “a matter of equity.”
“It puts the units of a certain slice of affordability where they don’t exist now,” she said, “and that’s close to one of our major assets in Evanston that people are priced out of, and that is our transit.”
She maintained the bonuses the ordinance offers to developers — such as allowing them to build higher if they include the affordable unit — won’t make an appreciable difference in the projects.
But Ald. Donald Wilson, 4th, who has lobbied for the need for a more comprehensive approach, predicted the changes “are going to have nominal impact.”
He said for groups the city is trying to reach, such as the low income and homeless, “this does not touch that.”
He said even the term, “inclusionary,” which community members as well as staff have used as the umbrella term for the ordinance, is misleading. “The whole country uses the term inclusionary zoning. Somebody came up with that and it sounds nice,” he said. “But it just feels out of context of what we’re trying to accomplish as a community.”
Some other aldermen also raised concerns but backed approval.
The ordinance should really be re-coined “work-force housing,” said Ald. Melissa Wynne, 3rd.
“That would be a better term for this. Because what we’re doing, we’re maintaining work-force housing for firefighters, nurses, teachers. Low income housing is not addressed by this. That is a very, very different issue that we’ll all have to look at.”
Staff predicted that approximately 250 affordable units (out of 2,500 new total units) will be developed over the next five years with the changes in place. City officials have maintained that Evanston lost 40 percent of housing units affordable to renters at 60 percent of the area median income and homeowners at 80 percent between 2004 and 2013.
Addressing the council during citizen comment, Rich Kinnebrew, for many years the outreach librarian at the Evanston Public Library, speaking as “a concerned resident,” urged passage.
“We want to keep Evanston lively in the way it is,” he said, “so that people who work for the city, even if it’s an entry-level job, can live in the city where they work.”
“It makes us a really tight and better served community,” Kinnebrew said. “We don’t want to turn into a well-funded community with no character. Why, that would be terrible.”