Affordable Housing Details At Forefront In Early Review Of Plans For International Plaza

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Site plan for future of International Plaza in Arlington Heights proposes mix of residential and retail space.

If redevelopment of the mostly empty International Plaza shopping center in Arlington Heights is going to happen the developers will need to show that their plan to concentrate the project’s affordable housing component into a single building won’t become a situation of separate and unequal.

UrbanStreet Group presented a preliminary plan for the 17.5-acre site on Golf Road, east of Arlington Heights Road, to the village board on Monday, Aug. 15. The proposal would see the entire existing shopping center demolished in favor of three commercial buildings and seven residential buildings — one of which will be entirely for seniors who are earning 60 percent of the area median income or less. The total project would have 302 apartment units, 235 of which would be market rate units located in the other six buildings.

The presentation was part of the early review process, so no action was taken. UrbanStreet Group is expected to incorporate feedback from trustees into a more robust proposal that will be presented to the village’s various commissions at a later date.

With 37 affordable units planned, the proposal exceeds the village’s inclusionary housing ordinance requirement for projects to have 10% of units designated as affordable by 10 apartments. However, the ordinance also states that units should be mixed in with the market rate apartments, not cordoned off in a separate structure. UrbanStreet Group has argued that the separation is necessary to receive financial backing for the project and that consolidating the affordable units into their own building would ultimately benefit the tenants, who would be senior residents that may have different needs and amenity requirements from those living in the other buildings.

Although UrbanStreet would act as the master developer of the project, Jon Dennis, senior vice president for the company, explained that it would work with other developers to build the three commercial buildings and the affordable housing structure. While UrbanStreet would demolish and prepare the sites for building, the company responsible for building the affordable housing structure would be Northpointe Development, a national affordable housing developer that has completed $230 million worth of projects supported by low-income housing tax credits. 

Northpointe’s vision is to make the affordable housing building at International Plaza age restricted, ensuring that it was only available to seniors. Because of that, it was unclear whether residents of that building would have access to the pool and other amenities that would be open to those living in the six market-rate apartment buildings. Dennis explained that Northpointe believes its residents need their own amenities and would not want to share gathering spaces or other facilities with the large population of the other buildings.

That was a sticking point for several of the trustees, who worried that separating the amenities would only further divide the affordable housing component from the rest of the development. Several expressed their desire for the final project to allow the seniors living in the affordable units to have access to everything the development has to offer. Still, trustees Mary Beth Canty and Nicolle Grasse were skeptical that the affordable units needed to be segregated into their own building at all, rather than dispersed among the market rate apartments as the village’s inclusionary housing ordinance requires.

“I am also excited for the development of this project and this parcel. I think it’s greatly needed,” Canty said of her review of the proposal. “But I have some real concerns and I don’t think my concerns were adequately addressed.”

“We see this as one development,” Dennis said. “That building is a few feet away from the other buildings. It’s not offsite.”

Trustee Jim Bertucci said that it was easier to support separating the affordable housing component into one building if that building were designed with the specific needs of seniors in mind, such as larger showers or wider doorways. Trustee Robin LaBedz added that the intent of requiring the affordable units to be mixed in with market rate ones was to ensure a developer wouldn’t technically meet the standard by distancing affordable units on the site. “I understand the concerns of many people in terms of wanting to be sure that residents in this affordable building feel like a part of everything, but it’s not like it’s going to be three miles away,” she said.

The proximity of the affordable housing building to the rest of the development was also encouraging to Mayor Tom Hayes. “This concept, which I really like, results in many more affordable housing units — 37, way over what you are required to provide — and addresses a dire need in our community of senior affordable housing. I understand the desire to integrate, but I think you can overcome any problems associated with the building located at the location it is by sharing more amenities.”

Despite reassurances from the developer that the affordable units would match the quality of the other residences and that the building would fit with the larger development, several residents warned that consolidating housing for lower-income individuals would inevitably lead to inequalities. Further, they questioned whether the affordable housing structure would end up being built at all.

“If the petitioner would include 27 units right now in the market rate project, it would solve our problem,” resident Keith Moens said. “But of course, they would really rather piggyback on the phantom units that may show up with another developer.”

Village officials noted that Arlington Heights had a few more ways to enforce the construction of the affordable units than it would typically have for a development. Namely, the village owns five of the parcels that make up the site and it could simply decide not to sell that land if the project isn’t moving forward as promised. The property also falls within a tax-increment financing district, which provides public funding support for redevelopment, and that money could potentially be withheld. Dennis added that UrbanStreet is committed to constructing the affordable housing building and would be willing to find another partner if Northpointe is unable to come through.

Even if the affordable housing component is completed simultaneously with the rest of the residential buildings, those living in the cheaper units would still be at risk of differing treatment, resident Christina Crusius said. “If the developers segregate all affordable units to a single building, that is not inclusion. It ‘others’ those who make less and runs the risk of regulating them to second-class citizens. Separate is not equal. That goes against the letter and the spirit of the inclusionary housing ordinance.”

Further, by outsourcing the construction of the affordable housing building, she believed UrbanStreet Group was shirking its responsibility to the village.

“If we make an exception, especially this early on into the ordinance’s life, we are setting the wrong precedent and everything that went into this ordinance will be for naught,” Crusius said.

The post Affordable Housing Details At Forefront In Early Review Of Plans For International Plaza first appeared on Journal & Topics Media Group.

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August 22, 2022 at 11:45AM

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