By: Karen Berkowitz | firstname.lastname@example.org | @KarenABerkowitz
More homeowners in Highland Park and other northern suburbs are burdened by housing costs that consume 35 percent or more of their income, according to an analysis of census data by Open Communities, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
The proportion of Highland Park homeowners “burdened” by housing costs jumped from 20 to 29 percent and has nearly doubled in the past two decades, according to the analysis. The same trend was seen in neighboring Deerfield, where the proportion of cost-burdened homeowners rose from 16 to 24 percent.
In census parlance, a homeowner or renter is burdened by shelter costs if their combined spending for mortgage or rent payments, property taxes, utilities and condominium assessments, if applicable, is 35 percent or more of income.
The City of Highland Park is an anomaly among North Shore communities for its active pursuit of affordable housing.
The city requires developers to reserve 20 percent of units for affordable housing, or make a substantial cash contributions to a Housing Trust Fund. The city also uses a tax on teardowns to support the creation of moderately-priced housing options.
But despite those efforts, the proportion of affordable housing units has dropped since the city passed its landmark policies in 2003.
“The surprise is that things have gotten so much worse everywhere,” said Gail Schechter, executive director of the Winnetka-based Open Communities, which works on housing issues in 16 northern suburbs. “Not only has the number of moderately-priced homes and rentals decreased in communities already deemed by the State of Illinois to have a shortage, but their residents are increasingly burdened by housing costs.”
The proportion of Highland Park homes and apartments considered affordable declined from 7.6 percent in 2000 to 6.7 percent in 2011, according to census data compiled by the Illinois Housing Development Authority. That slide, which equates to a little more than 100 units, may stem in part from a decline in median income levels in the region. The 2011 figure a based on a rolling, five-year census figure with a high margin of error.
“There are a lot of moving parts here,” said Lee Smith, senior planner for the City of Highland Park, who questioned the IDHA methodology. “While the numbers may show a decrease, in fact, Highland Park can demonstrably point to the creation of 48 affordable housing units that will be affordable in perpetuity to low- and moderate-income households.”
Most of those affordable housing units were created through Community Partners for Affordable Housing.
In neighboring Deerfield, the proportion of affordable units inched up slightly, from 3.4 to 4 percent.
“Affordable” means that a for-sale home is within the means of a household earning about $48,800 a year — that is, 80 percent of the area’s median household income. A rental unit is deemed affordable if the rent level is comfortable for a family earning 60 percent of the median income for the region, or about $36,600 a year. The rule is that housing payments should consume no more than 30 percent of income.
In mid-December, the Illinois Housing Development Authority updated its list of communities in the state where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is considered affordable. Ironically, the number of towns on the list grew from 48 to 68 since the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act was implemented nearly a decade ago. The law requires municipalities with less than 10 percent affordable housing to submit corrective plans to the state.
“I think it is pretty clear the law had no effect, and these communities have no political will (to increase their affordable housing stock),” said Schechter.
The Village of Deerfield is one of a small number of communities that did not submit a plan.
“The village took a position that because we are home rule, we are not required to do that,” said Deerfield Village Manager Kent Street.
He believes the slight increase in affordable housing stems from changes in market conditions.
“We have a range of housing types in town and my sense is that some of the smaller units are becoming more attractive from a buyer’s standpoint,” he said.
Twelve of the 68 communities on the state’s list are within Open Communities’ service area in the northern suburbs: Deerfield, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Northbrook, Northfield, Park Ridge, Wilmette and Winnetka.
Schechter’s report singles out Highland Park as the only community that has taken steps to increase its affordable housing stock. She attributed the decline in affordable housing units there to an upturn in luxury units, a trend seen throughout the area.
“They want the richest people they can possible attract to live there,” Schechter said. “What these communities have to decide is, Do they value a diverse community, not only racially but one affordable for seniors and people with disabilities? Do they actually want people who grew up in the community to be able to stay there, or come back after college?
“Do they want workers to be close to their jobs?” she added. “Would they like to attract people of different cultures? If they decided this was important, they would actually do something. The municipalities say they are into the free market, but they have rigged the market by allowing so few units per acre.”
The City of Highland Park recognizes that the vast majority of homes are out of reach of low- and moderate-income families. According to the city’s website, the median market value for a single-family home in 2012 was $465,000 with newly-constructed homes selling for between $750,000 and $1.5 million.
The supply of rental units has declined due primarily to condominium conversions, the city notes.
Highland Park’s inclusionary zoning ordinance requires that 20 percent of units in larger single-family and multi-family developments be offered as affordable housing units. In the case of projects with fewer than 20 units, developers have the option of making a one-time payment into the city’s Housing Trust Fund. The payment is $100,000 for each affordable unit required under the city’s formula.
For full article, statistics and photos go to http://deerfield.suntimes.com/news/afford-HPN-01092014:article