By Karen Berkowitz, Pioneer Press
Highland Park officials may have cooperated with a state mandate to submit a plan to get affordable housing in the community up to the 10 percent mark, but officials still are disputing the metrics behind the idea that they’re lagging.
Nearly 68 communities – among them Highland Park – were found by the Illinois Housing Development Authority as having too little affordable housing, according to spokeswoman Man Yee Lee, and were required to create a proposal for how they might reach that level.
Of those largely affluent municipalities, 40 have chosen not to submit plans, according to the IHDA, the agency that administers the state’s Affordable Housing Planning and Appeals Act. But Highland Park was not one of them. And city officials say they’ve tried hard to create homes and apartments that will remain affordable in perpetuity, or at least for a very long time. They complain that their progress on that front is not reflected in the state’s housing counts, which say 7 percent of the city’s housing stock is affordable, down a percentage point from a decade ago.
“Highland Park is an inclusive community that has been dedicated to affordable housing since 1968,” Mayor Nancy Rotering said.
The municipality adopted the state’s first inclusionary zoning ordinance before the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeals Act took effect in 2004. The city also created a community land trust that allows homes to remain affordable from one buyer to the next, officials said.
“Highland Park has put into place a number of policies to support the development and creation of affordable housing,” said Lee Smith, the city’s senior housing planner. “We established a not-for-profit organization, Community Partners for Affordable Housing. Through their own efforts and the city’s support, this organization has created 50 units of affordable housing that are going to be permanently affordable.”
Smith noted the state looks at a snapshot of housing prices, and a home considered affordable one year may not be affordable the next.
“The housing we have created for residents of Highland Park will stay affordable whether prices go up or down,” Smith said.
But according to the state’s computations, the proportion of Highland Park’s housing considered affordable slipped a percentage point, from 7.6 to 6.7 percent, in the decade since the state first required towns to submit housing plans. Out of the city’s nearly 11,500 dwellings, 774 were considered affordable to low- or moderate-income households.
Highland Park’s zoning ordinance requires that 20 percent of units in all new developments be affordably priced by state definitions. In projects of fewer than five units, developers may pay a fee into the housing trust fund instead of creating the affordable housing on site.
While the recession brought nearly all development to a halt, three recently-approved developments will add 24 more units of affordable housing. Rental housing units must remain affordable for 25 years. Units offered for purchase remain affordable in perpetuity.
Housing created through Community Partners is kept affordable for current and future purchasers because the land is held in trust and is not part of the purchase price.
Gail Schechter serves as executive director of Open Communities, which advocates for affordable and fair housing in 16 northern suburbs. She said Highland Park has found a way to make affordable housing work without igniting community controversy.
“The people of Highland Park aren’t fighting it. The developers aren’t fighting it,” she said of the city’s inclusionary zoning policies, which require developers, with some exceptions, to reserve a certain number of units for affordable housing.