Can City Encourage ‘Affordable’ Housing With No Place To Build It? | Journal & Topics Media Group

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The primary arguments in the concept of affordable housing, as approached by city consultants from Teska Associates, is that every community or municipality needs to have some places where people who don’t make big salaries can find a place where they can afford to live.

That could relate to a place where young adults who grew up in the community can come back home and live without having to stay with their relatives. It could relate to senior citizens who want to downsize. It could provide homes that don’t require long commutes for single parents or the essential workers who keep a business area staffed.

The presentations Park Ridge is hearing for the rewrite of the 1996 Comprehensive Plan are using the following argument: “It is becoming quite unaffordable for young families to find a home with the square footage they need on a middle class income.”

Sixteen years ago, the Illinois legislature passed the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act (AHA) to encourage communities with an acute shortage of less expensive housing to provide it. Taking a regional median income (so, not just Park Ridge), would 80% of homebuyers or 60% of renters in Park Ridge be able to find a place they could afford to live?

AHA set a goal of 10% of housing stock to meet that level for each community. Based on raw numbers, Teska announced that Park Ridge’s current number of units only qualified at 8% and that 272 more inexpensive housing units are required.

At the same time, the Teska presentation says, “The city will support efforts to preserve and rehabilitate housing while also allowing new investment and innovative design,” and “The look, feel, and scale of single-family neighborhoods will be preserved.”

There is a disagreement between one set of guiding principles for the housing chapter and the actual recommendations.

“The wide variety of housing in Park Ridge, which has developed over the past 100 years, adds to the charm and appeal of the community. Park Ridge has always been a community primarily of single family homes, and it should remain so.”

“The investment in and preservation of existing houses is desirable.”

“The construction of new homes is desirable, as well, but new home construction should be balanced with the preservation of existing homes.”

At the June 30 meeting of the Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission, members talked about the numbers of older, more modest properties which have been sold and remodeled or torn down to make much more expensive homes. Really large sites, like the former Public Works yard at Elm and Greenwood, used planned developments to squeeze in extra units, but they were not inexpensive to buy.

Chairman Jim Argionis objected to wording that implied buildable land in Park Ridge is “scarce” when the last sites are already being developed. Unless the city annexed unincorporated land to the north, he could think of no places to develop.

Jim Hanlon thought of the redevelopment of the Embers School site, a former church east of Maine Park, which was replaced by 10 houses a few years ago. Sites like that are rare in a city where the neighborhoods all have mature development, he said.

They dropped out a chart using national housing and income statistics from HUD, referring it to the Housing chapter.

While the Housing chapter initially made big promises that they would preserve the historic nature and classic homes in Park Ridge, current language is promoting a tear down tax so that whenever a house, including ones which add to the streetscapes, is allowed to be torn down, the owner would have to pay thousands of dollars toward a fund for preservation efforts  or downpayment assistance for senior citizens.

Of six P&Z commissioners expressing an opinion in May, two supported this aspect and four did not. Their discussion is not finished. Member Rebecca Mills has sent several discussions on affordable housing to fellow commissioners.

Argionis and several other attorneys on the commission discussed whether Park Ridge is even required to create 272 more inexpensive housing units. They had been told by other attorneys that Home Rule communities including Park Ridge are exempt from the 10% minimum and that the city’s population is high enough to qualify it for the home rule exemption in this act.

That doesn’t mean the city can’t consider encouraging affordable units if it chooses, but it could also recommend less drastic measures.

Teska is pushing for more townhouses and apartment buildings to fill a “missing middle” of housing stock with more duplexes and garden apartments along “key” corridors where apartments already predominate.

Letters submitted June 30 complained there were too many high rise apartments especially in Uptown, where developments at Executive Office Plaza (the Whole Foods block) and around the Shops of Uptown have been added in the last 20 years. Why had those been allowed, one writer complained.

Joe Baldi, a former P&Z chairman and city alderman, was the only one monitoring the meeting who dated back to Target Area 2 and the Uptown TIF. They maximized the housing units to retrieve costs, he said. (The Uptown TIF storefronts did not fill quickly and the city had had to promise to cover losses from construction delays).

A lot of the charts produced to illustrate ideas in the chapters depend on population and housing statistics, but they don’t match.

Why not wait for the census?

One of the questions raised by Ald. Marc Mazucca (6th) was why, if the U.S. Census 2020 count is still underway till the end of the year, Park Ridge can’t wait for the results to see what is happening with population and the financial impacts on the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

Senior city planner John Carlisle told P&Z that it takes several years to get results, and the current census has cut out key questions that might have been used in previous decades. That leaves planners scrambling in several other databases and reports for similar information to analyze.

The most dependable information is a five-year study created separately by ACS for the U.S. Census Bureau 2014-2018. It provides comprehensive numbers for real estate and is the most up to date data which they can expect to get. It does not provide the same data as the regular census, Carlisle said.

Mazzuca’s questions are also pertinent to the calls for racial diversity which emerged in the “affordable housing” rallies which paralleled the Black Lives Matter protests in late May. If there has been growth in more diverse population in the last two censuses, there may be data after 2020 which should be considered. Ethnicity is not part of the criteria for a comprehensive plan.

Where’s the match?

Matching Park Ridge against the right other comparable communities is a different challenge.

Chicago’s Far Northwest Side appeared to be a popular comparison for houses in 60631 (Edison Park and Norwood Park). While there is a similar mix of housing, the demand there is high because city workers need to live within the Chicago borders. The Oriole Park area in 60656 has more moderately sized housing and the area west of Cumberland has a lot of the same housing mix that Teska is promoting. The Pennoyer School in unincorporated Norwood Park Township already feeds into Maine South High School. Is it proximity or living specifically within the Park Ridge borders that is the key issue?

While those communities are close to Park Ridge, the other comparatives are Glenview and Arlington Heights which have experienced considerable rebuilding in central areas, and the distant Elmhurst and LaGrange.

Brown’s Powerpoint also promotes the idea of covering ground parking lots with development. Aldermen were not impressed last year when he brought in developers who wanted the city to donate its own parking lot and lose $5 million and parking spaces so they could build high, expensive condos on top. The city “benefit” would be to lose parking after just passing a parking study and getting tax dollars in TIF 2 just as the increment benefits for the city are about to expire.

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July 15, 2020 at 10:31PM

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