Affordable housing is cropping up in some unlikely areas

Opponents of the development tried to rally neighbors to their side in 2015 by handing out flyers to commuters at Metra stations and trick-or-treaters on Halloween, Koenig says. They voiced similar objections to those raised in Deerfield, following a playbook Koenig knows well.

"Number one is always property values, number two is always traffic," he says, followed by concerns about density and the project’s impact on schools. "There’s an assumption that it’s going to be crappy housing and poorly maintained housing. It’s going to fall apart."

Housing advocates like Koenig believe that race remains a key unspoken factor behind the opposition to low-income projects in wealthy white suburbs. The term "low-income housing" also comes with a lot of baggage, evoking images of big, drug-infested projects like Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Homes.

"Part of the problem is there are a lot of misconceptions," says Richard Monocchio, executive director of the Housing Authority of Cook County. "There’s a lot of stigmatization of poor people and housing programs."

Still, many white suburbanites embrace the concept of affordable housing, as long as it’s not too close to where they live.

"It’s one thing when you’re developing a policy," says Tom Poupard, director of planning and development services for the village of Northbrook. "It’s another thing when you’re putting it in someone’s backyard."

There could be more affordable housing coming to Northbrook, which is in the final stages of approving an inclusionary zoning ordinance. The proposed rules vary, but residential developers generally would have to set aside 15 percent of units in a new project for residents who meet income criteria.

Poupard attributes the village’s new commitment to affordable housing to a recent shake-up on its board and an increased interest in promoting social justice after events including the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Developers dislike inclusionary zoning codes because they tend to make projects less profitable and, they contend, discourage development. But more suburbs are embracing the idea. Naperville is exploring eight recommendations to increase its supply of affordable housing, including an inclusionary zoning ordinance. Deerfield also is considering inclusionary zoning as part of a broader affordable housing plan. Two of the area’s wealthiest suburbs, Lake Forest and Highland Park, have had inclusionary zoning ordinances for years.

Yet affordable housing is still in short supply in many well-to-do, and mostly white, suburbs. Affordable housing represented less than 10 percent of the total housing stock in 48 of 269 Chicago suburbs in 2018, according to the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Deerfield was at 7.3 percent, with Northbrook at 5.7 percent and Wilmette at 4.5 percent. Under a 2003 state law, non-home rule municipalities below the 10 percent threshold must submit plans with the state to attain it.


The definition of affordability varies by apartment size: A one-bedroom unit in the Chicago area that rents for $952 per month or less is considered affordable, as is a four-bedroom unit that rents for $1,475 or less.

Though President Trump has been tweeting about coming to the rescue of suburbia, the Obama fair-housing rule nixed by his administration didn’t force suburbs to build low-income housing. Established in 2015, the rule chiefly allowed the Department of Housing & Urban Development to withhold funding to local governments that didn’t do enough to create fair housing plans. Conservatives criticized it as social engineering.

"It would give the federal government the authority to penalize localities if they were not diverse enough, according to however the feds define diversity," Ryan Streeter, director of domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, wrote in late July. "This is part of a longstanding plan on the left to make the suburbs more like the city, or at least penalize the suburbs for contributing to urban problems."

But the rule created a stick, pushing local governments to work with fair housing advocates to put together plans to reduce segregation and boost inclusivity in their communities, says Patricia Fron, co-executive director of the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance. Trump has taken away that stick.

"We’ve lost a ton of leverage," Fron says. "It’s definitely going to have an impact."

via Crain’s Chicago Business

October 23, 2020 at 09:46PM

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