by Irv Leavitt
Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum has asked a Village Board committee to study how to bring lower-cost housing to the village.
The move came, she said, as a reaction to comments by affordable-housing advocates about the lack of such residences in the 304-unit luxury apartment building approved for 1000 Skokie Blvd. by the Northbrook Village Board earlier this year.
Frum asked Village Trustee Bob Israel at a March 22 Village Board meeting to take up the issue in his Community and Sustainability Committee, an ad hoc group of three trustees which rarely meets. He agreed, but no first session has yet been scheduled.
Though Northbrook’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan encourages affordable housing, none has been mandated by village officials, aside from a segment of senior housing in The Lodge, in the Techny area.
Frum said March 30 that she wants the committee to explore different methods, including one used in Highland Park: establishing a community land trust that would subsidize the cost of land to help bring down unit prices.
She said a community land trust could possibly be funded by fees charged to those who tear down houses, or by requiring multi-family housing developers to provide lower-cost units or pay into the fund.
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.
Frum said her intention is not to create affordable housing as defined by federal and state standards, but to create what her village board has for years defined as attainable housing: residences cheap enough for government workers like village employees and teachers.
Gail Schechter, who recently stepped down as head of the North Shore housing advocacy group Open Communities, said March 30 that while Northbrook should be seeking housing considered affordable by state standards, a genuine attempt to create any lower-cost housing is a major step forward.
“It’s the (Northbrook) government saying, ‘We really want housing for a certain population that can’t afford the going price,'” she said. “It’s a foot in the door.”
Not everyone is satisfied with the attainable level as a current goal. Mark Hall, who works in downtown Northbrook’s Advance Auto Parts, looked for months before recently finding a $1,000-per-month Wheeling apartment for himself and two roommates.
“We need something for those of us (earning) in the twenties,” Hall said.
Frum said she wasn’t trying to find housing for people like baristas, grocery clerks and factory workers.
“I’m not talking about those people. I’m talking about school teachers, government workers,” Frum said.
“That’s my vision of Northbrook,” she said.
Israel agreed with Frum that the village should work toward having attainable, not affordable, housing.
“I would like to have the discussion with fellow trustees, with the community, to see what the community wants,” he said. “What I want is immaterial. I’d like to keep my children and my parents near, but to make sure that they can afford to do that, I’m not sure what’s the right answer.”
Northbrook trustees Michael Scolaro and Kathryn Ciesla serve on Israel’s committee.
Frum announced her initiative prior to a Village Board discussion of the 72-unit downtown Jacobs Townhomes project, which is expected to come up for a vote later this spring. The project has been heavily criticized by affordable housing advocates for the cost of its units.
She said March 30 that one reason for assigning the task to the committee was her assumption trustees wouldn’t want to trade higher Jacobs density for some cheaper units, though a new downtown zoning district proposed for the project, and others in the future, includes a provision for such “density bonuses.”
Israel said it’s likely too late to do anything that would bring lower-cost housing to the Jacobs project, as a framework for change won’t be completed for at least six months.
Frum said that since the Jacobs project would be built in phases, which might take years, there might be time later to find ways to have individual units built at lower cost, partly by having them “built with less–expensive finishes, like Formica instead of granite.”