Guest column: Let’s think big on affordable housing and consider locations on Route 59 AND Fifth Avenue – Chicago Tribune

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Several years ago, I and another Naperville resident were chosen to be the co-chairs of the city’s Senior Task Force. Today I am speaking only as a private citizen, but I have the seniors of our city at heart as well as all of our residents.

Many years ago, I attended a meeting of the city’s Accessible Community Task Force. A young man stood up and said, “Please don’t put me in a home with all disabled.” That has stayed with me all these years and I have been thinking about why we need a facility in Naperville to serve all needs and how it can be accomplished.

Here are my thoughts:

Bev Frier, former co-chair of the Naperville Senior Task Force. (Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce)

I strongly believe we should have a place for intergenerational residents. Just like the young man who spoke years ago who said, “I want to live with the general public. Please don’t put me in a home with all disabled,” I envision groups sharing the same housing complex:

Seniors. The seniors could be a help for families in so many ways. And also, be real friends with the disabled residents.

Families. They could find it helpful to have some seniors in the complex. And seniors always perk up when they are with kids.

Young singles. These are our kids who possibly graduated from college and want to live in their hometown but can’t afford it. (Speaking for myself, they could also help us seniors with our computers!)

Disabled people. They would thrive with all the different ages living with them.

When you have different ages, all living in the same community, it becomes an “alive” home. Just like a true neighborhood, each generation would be able to help the others in this “Affordable Housing Community.”

We, the city, have kicked this can down the road for far too long. Everyone knows we need a lot more affordable housing than this one project. The current plan is to build a facility in south Naperville on 103rd Street and Route 59 on city-owned land.

City land means every resident of Naperville is an owner. So why don’t we lease the land rather than sell it?

If we sell the land, where will that money be in 20 or more years? It’s not unlike when we sold the old Nichols Library in downtown Naperville and lost control of it. And where did that money go? What do we have to show for it today?

There is no doubt that land values increase. However, buildings decrease in value.

Why not use Fifth Avenue property?

Were we to use the city-owned property on Fifth Avenue, near downtown, here are some things to consider:

Seniors. I and many others live alone and voluntarily gave up driving. I need to be able to walk to a grocery store, go to the library, attend the summer band concerts in the park, etc.

Families. They would like easy access to parks, and there are two nearby as well as thriving downtown businesses, DuPage Children’s Museum, Centennial Beach, Nichols Library and grocery stores.

Young Adults. They would also like the ease of access to downtown Naperville and the above amenities.

Disability residents. This is the most important group, in my opinion. There are a lot of job opportunities for them within the proximity of downtown. The new restaurant called Chez Francois Poutinerie hires people with disabilities, and a downtown location would make it easy for employees to walk to their jobs.

I think the problem with the Route 59 is the location, sale price and the city giving up land ownership.

These are the reasons I’ve been given about why city officials are pushing to move forward on the Route 59 project:

  • We’re too far along on this plan to change.
  • We have spent many hours planning it for this location.
  • We can’t use 5th Avenue because we don’t have a master plan for that property.

The city spent four years with Ryan Cos. attempting to put together a master plan and it fell apart. I also had a master plan some 20 years ago for 5th Avenue, and it also fell apart.

After all these years, we still have vacant land with very little income. We do not need a plan for our project. We just need a small piece of the property, maybe down by the water tower.

I can understand why the city doesn’t want to own the building and manage it. The city already owns and manages the Alfred Rubin Community Center and Naper Settlement. There may be more. These properties were “given” to the city.

I am happy to let a developer own what he builds and reap the profits of what he builds. The city’s only responsibility would be to deposit the rent checks. We should never sell any of the land we already own. The value will increase and therefore the land rent would also go up accordingly.

Can we build on two locations?

Our failure to create more affordable housing is disgraceful. It’s time we step up now and do this right the first time.

Naperville Sun

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We are a wealthy town. Let’s do a project for our residents who are in need. We won’t lose any money by not selling it, and look at all the rent we will reap through the years. Our kids and grandkids and future residents will get the benefit of the rental income. Let’s leave this gift to them.

I’m also being told, “Yes, we have a big need for affordable housing. So, let’s build now on Route 59 and we can build another one later.”

But once we build only one in south Naperville, I think it is going to be a tough sell to build another one. Naperville residents will say, we already have one and that’s enough.

So, here’s another thought: Let’s build two now. The one on 5th Avenue can be for seniors and the disabled, who would not own cars. The other on Route 59 would be for families and young people, who would likely own cars.

I don’t think there is a resident in Naperville who wouldn’t want to do what is right for our disabled citizens and their families. I would think a developer would be happy to build two for us. And our Naperville would finally help fill the need for affordable housing that is good for all generations.

If you agree with these thoughts, please let council members know.

Bev Frier is the former co-chair of the Naperville Senior Task Force.

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August 29, 2022 at 05:13PM

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