By Alexandra Chachkevitch, Chicago Tribune reporter
On the North Shore, where some of the Chicago area’s wealthiest residents live in multi-million dollar mansions, “affordable housing” can be a matter of perspective.
But not everyone who dwells there is rich. While there may be fewer lower- and middle-income families than in other Illinois zip codes, experts and advocates say the demand for cheaper housing is still great — and growing.
Ten years ago the state put the issue of affordable housing under a microscope by creating the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act. It can’t force any community to act, but the law has spurred sometimes heated debate.
The law considers a mortgage “affordable” when a person who earns 80 percent or less of the area’s median income can pay for it by using 30 percent or less of his or her income. For renters, the line is for people earning 60 percent or less of the area’s median income.
Under the law, the Illinois Housing Development Authority in 2004 identified 49 communities where less than 10 percent of the housing was deemed affordable. At least nine of them are on the North Shore, including Winnetka, Wilmette, Highland Park, Deerfield, Northbrook, and Lake Forest.
Reactions to the law varied in those communities. Highland Park aggressively pursued ways to make affordable housing available. Northbrook took a more casual approach and set general goals. In Winnetka, after years of heated debate, officials voted in 2011 to just stop talking about the issue.
Complicating matters, it has been hard to gauge progress because of changes in the way U.S. Census Bureau gathers data.
Gail Schechter, executive director of Winnetka-based Open Communities, a nonprofit that works to promote diversity in the north suburbs, said she celebrates whenever one of the communities successfully passes an affordable housing plan.
But over the last ten years, the affordable housing that has been added “is a drop in a bucket,” she said.
Browse the articles below for related stories. All the data cited was from Open Communities, and we shared the contacts for the interviewees in Northbrook and Winnetka.
Glenview, Northbrook look at their affordable housing
By Alexandra Chachkevitch, Tribune Reporter
Marshall and Paulette Gardner were residents of a senior living facility in downtown Chicago eight years ago when they decided to move back to Northbrook, nearer their children.
Crestwood Place, the village’s affordable housing development for seniors, seemed perfect.
“We were lucky — the waiting list happened to be short during that time,” said Paulette Gardner, 71.
Over the years, others in the Gardners’ situation have not been so lucky finding affordable housing in North Shore communities, according to experts.
Between 2000 and 2011, the number of homeowners in Glenview paying more than 35 percent of their income for shelter increased by 98 percent, according to a Tribune analysis using data from the 2000 U.S. Census and data from the 2007-2011 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, which looked at averages over a five-year period. The number of renters who are burdened in the same way has spiked even more — by 173 percent.
Over the same time frame, Northbrook saw a jump of 88 percent in homeowners burdened by mortgage costs and 31 percent increase in the renter category.
Different approaches to affordable housing in Winnetka, Wilmette
By Gregory Trotter, Chicago Tribune
Finding affordable housing in Winnetka over the years has been a journey of faith for Sister Peggy McDonnell.
A Catholic nun, McDonnell has found a way to stay in Winnetka for nearly 25 years — including 11 years in a coach house — despite never having more than $950 a month to spend on both home rent and office space.
But McDonnell’s story is more exception than rule in Winnetka, which remains among the Illinois communities with the least amount of affordable housing. In 2012, Winnetka residents put the issue behind them in a landslide referendum vote that effectively ended discussion of affordable housing.
Almost 10 years after Illinois’ affordable housing law took effect, the need for more affordable options remains strong on the North Shore, according to data that show an increased number of people paying more than 35 percent of their income on housing.
Highland Park, Deerfield differ on approaches to affordable housing
By John P. Huston, Chicago Tribune
Today, thanks to Highland Park’s affordable housing program, the family has room to grow — the happy owners of a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home on the city’s west side. It includes a large finished basement where the girls can play with their toys, and a backyard where Rodriguez plans to plant tomatoes and jalapeno peppers.
“In my mind, it was like, ‘I need to buy a house. I need to get a better place for my wife. I need it for my kids. And for myself.’ Every day, that was my goal. Now I have my goal,” said Rodriguez, 30, a waiter at Walker Bros. Original Pancake House.
Highland Park’s persistent efforts to create affordable housing have gained regional and national accolades since the city adopted a plan in 2001. Neighboring Deerfield, meanwhile, prefers to encourage such projects, rather than seek them out.