Housing Affordability May Need Regional Cooperation

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Although the focus in the past year on addressing housing needs in Park Ridge has been targeted on how to squeeze small housing units into the city (as opposed to making housing which is affordable be available), a discussion at Action Ridge on Thursday, June 10 pointed the group’s attention to the wider needs of the region.

Speaker Sue Loellbach, based in Evanston, works with Connections for the Homeless. She talked about ways that multiple communities can join forces to work on affordable housing programs.

She discussed the initiatives which affect a group of 41 mostly northern suburbs plus Chicago to help people struggling to retain housing. People in need are referred to them, including some even from Park Ridge, but it is also an issue for finding shelter where rooms are available. Many who come to her group have been living on the streets.

She said in the Park Ridge area there are some closer organizations which probably get more local referrals, but some in need end up further east.

Her organization owns a few buildings where it can offer temporary shelter. They used to have beds for 18 and have expanded to 60 during COVID. Some who come to them have been living on the streets, without food, with miserable facilities, so they often also need medical assistance.

Many whom they help still have a home but are struggling to keep up with the rent. A small subsidy, some of which can be arranged through the government, helps them stay in their modest homes. Also, there are groups which own buildings and offer less expensive rents.

She said that COVID assistance taught the government and the agencies some things. It costs less to offer a small loan (such as a COVID small loan) to catch up with rent arrearages than to foreclose on the family debt and have to pick up the social services.

“It is less expensive to provide a little,” she explained, than to put families with few resources out on the streets. “You help people pay off a few bills and (help them) be self-sufficient again.”

The guidelines for “affordable” housing means you are not paying more than 30 percent of your income for your dwelling. In Park Ridge the average incomes vary enough that a family with a good income would qualify as affordable at one level, where a single parent in a small place might not afford the same space. Many families may be facing stress in stretching their budgets to meet the taxes or mortgage payments.

Similarly, different suburbs or the neighborhoods within them vary considerably. In Evanston, where there is a larger than average Black population, old zoning rules had established borders which isolated groups for generations. She said there are more Hispanic families in Park Ridge, and some of the areas where there are entry level housing units are in the unincorporated parts of Maine Township, where the city does not control zoning.

There was a suggestion during the evening at Park Ridge should annex some of the adjacent unincorporated areas in North Maine. In the past, taking in those areas have challenged Park Ridge and Des Plaines in trying to solve flooding, roads and other infrastructure.

The formulas imposed by the Teska planners working with Park Ridge’s rewrite of the city’s comprehensive plan a year ago created a lot of controversy because the planners insisted the city had to insure there were enough cheap housing units. Attorneys researching the state rules learned that if the city were a Home Rule community (as Park Ridge is), they did not need to comply with the numbers of cheap housing units the planners insisted.

Rather than do the same statistical analysis as Loellbach’s study of census and housing and income had combined, the Comprehensive Plan draft skipped back and forth between the introduction, the housing chapter and land use section. With the recent departures of Director Jim Brown and senior planner John Carlisle from the Community Preservation and Development Department, the entire plan rewrite is on hold.

Brown signed into the meeting and said he was fired from his job last month due to his “stance and procedures surrounding the comprehensive plan.”

One of his examples of citizens who objected to multi-dwelling units was 400 Talcott, where developers avoided following the established zoning and the required compliance with urban design guidelines by suing the city and many of the neighbors. It came during a transition between CP&D directors and the city’s legal teams, and activated zoning watchdogs. A declaratory judgment created so much concern that the development changed its address. Affordability was not an issue, just density originally.

Brown had advocated changing existing buildings or single family properties into multiple units. He thought it was be viable to convert 100 single family houses into two flats.

It had not occurred to him or Scott Golden from Teska to look into offering tax credits to encourage developers to include a percentage of subsidized apartments in a complex, he added. He characterized the plan they presented in April 2020 as “watered down.”

The evening discussion touched on the opposition to opening a PADS location at either St. Mary’s Episcopal Church or St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church a dozen years ago. It eventually evolved to the Sunday Suppers.

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June 16, 2021 at 05:21PM

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