Northbrook Caucus candidates weigh in on affordable housing

Of several topics Northbrook Caucus candidates for village board of trustees discussed at a remote Daily Herald forum, affordable housing drew the lengthiest comments.

Incumbents Muriel Collison and Dan Pepoon each added their votes to the 7-0 approval of an affordable housing ordinance on Dec. 8, 2020, which amended 2005 and 2010 versions.

That night, Village President Sandy Frum said, despite a state-mandated but unenforced goal of 10% of affordable housing units, since 2005 only The Lodge of Northbrook, a senior living community on Founders Drive, had offered affordable housing while "close to 1,500 homes have been added."

Across a variety of sources, the median age of Northbrook residents is around 50 while the median property value is more than $500,000. Northbrook’s affordable housing stock is about 5.7%.

Trustee candidate Joy Ebhomielen, a 16-year Northbrook resident with background in the Northbrook Community Relations Commission and the Northbrook School District 27 parent-teacher organization, admitted her experience with affordable housing does not match that of her caucus mates. She favors it, though.

"Affordable housing is, when my son graduates (college) he can maybe afford a home here," said Ebhomielen (pronounced a-bo-me-ellen), a mother of three.

"Seniors, those that live here and maybe those from outside the community, can afford a home here. Those that have disabilities will be able to afford a home here. Those that live in the city and have to jump on a train or whatever and drive two hours to Northbrook can maybe afford to live in Northbrook," she said.

The vehicles to increase such units include a demolition tax on smaller homes and a "fee in lieu" from developers not providing sufficient affordable housing units, at $125,000 per unit. The fees would be placed in a housing trust fund.

Larger developments would require 15% of units to be affordable housing. They would be dispersed throughout a development rather than, as recently retired Northbrook planner Tom Poupard said on Dec. 8, "isolated in an island."

"As we talked to businesses and our friends with the Chamber of Commerce, one of the things that we’ve learned is that businesses in Northbrook want this," said Pepoon, a Glenbrook North graduate appointed to the board in January 2020 after 15 years with the Plan Commission.

"They want to be able to expand their businesses and to be able to do so they need their employees to be able to live around Northbrook. So this is a positive thing for businesses in Northbrook," he said.

He noted Northbrook Court has seeded the housing trust fund with $750,000. Should a recently reviewed 12-unit development come to pass at 3000-3080 Willow Road, fees in lieu may bump that total near $1 million.

Attorney Collison, a fourth-generation Northbrook resident who also came out of the Plan Commission to be elected trustee in 2017, stated she was "super-excited" for affordable housing in Northbrook.

"We met with the experts, we read all about crime statistics, that crime does not increase because of affordable housing, that property values do not go down," she said.

She jilted the perception that the plan is "impossible for builders" and provided as example the former Green Acres Country Club on Dundee Road. Last Aug. 11 the board heard, and denied, a proposed development for the land on grounds of density, number of affordable units and their location. Beside four affordable townhome units, 72 rental apartments were contained in two buildings.

"They paid $9.7 million dollars for 127 acres of which I refer to as the ‘Emerald of Northbrook,’ it is beautiful property. All our school districts are fabulous — wonderful school district, beautiful property, close access to the freeway," Collison said.

"So even if the 37 acres are donated (as open space to the village or park district) that leaves 90 acres. That’s essentially saying they have paid $110,000 an acre. Well, if you as a builder cannot make a profit off of $110,000 an acre while including affordable housing, maybe you’re asking for too much."

Collison and Pepoon brought up holding onto 2 acres of the village-owned Grainger property on Shermer Road as a possible source of "neurodiverse and disabled housing," Collison said.

"It’d be a beautiful place for getting things going and the trust fund that we have funded, that’s an example of what I think it ought to be used for," Pepoon said.

"I’m one vote, one mind on the board of seven votes, but that’s where my efforts will go for using the first monies from that housing trust fund."

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March 11, 2021 at 07:06AM

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