Nancy Temkin has made living in Evanston work for more than 35 years. Now she said she wonders whether Evanston is a financially viable place to live after being notified by her property manager that her lease won’t be renewed.
“My son and I kept moving around Evanston because all the apartments we lived in were turning into condos. We’d find a really nice place and then two years later, we’d have to move,” Temkin said. “They’ve always been really expensive — nothing seems affordable. Now I think landlords are trying to make up for the pandemic’s financial burden.”
City Council members named housing affordability as a top priority for 2023. City Council members, during 2023 goal setting meetings, said they want to revisit Evanston’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, increase its affordable housing stock, fully fund a housing inspection program and provide funding to enforce the city’s fair housing ordinance.
Gail Schechter, who serves as the affordable housing advocate on the Illinois State Housing Appeals Board, says that while housing insecurity has long been an issue in Evanston, the root cause evolves.
“I’ve seen a lot of different housing crises in Evanston from the condo boom in the 90s to the foreclosure crisis about a dozen years ago,” Schechter said. “Recently, housing has been impacted by the pandemic and its newest phase as we ease into a post-pandemic era.”
Schechter says COVID-19 reconstructed the “white-collar” workplace, leaving more flexibility for remote work. Suburban municipalities are seeing an increase in urban transplants due to this labor trend, Schechter told Pioneer Press.
“The pandemic has spurred suburban development and it’s due to communications technology. People can work from home and access their files electronically,” she said. “If people don’t have to be physically close to their job, they’re thinking, ‘I like to be physically close to nature and trees,’ and so there’s been more demand for housing in less dense areas.”
The pandemic’s layoffs are also impacting the housing market because people are not able to afford rent payments. She said this doesn’t go well with the pre-pandemic era’s plans for the rental market, which was tailored toward a more affluent population with a shift toward luxury apartments.
Since people can’t afford to buy homes in the current market either, “there’s a lot of pressure and a demand on the rental market, (which drives prices even higher),” she said. “But, the rental market is trying to serve more affluent people.”
Temkin said she believes this might be happening to her building. An email from her property management company Quadrel Realty informed Temkin her unit has to be vacated for renovations, but Temkin says her apartment is in good condition. Her building, at 605-617 Hinman Ave., was acquired in 2022 by North Park Ventures for $35.3 million.
Quadrel Realty declined to comment.
Schechter said Northwestern University is another factor when it comes to Evanston’s housing market. She says the university owns a large chunk of land without paying property taxes due to its nonprofit status, leaving the financial burden of public services to property owners and trickles down to renters.
Councilmember Claire Kelly and newly formed activist group Most Livable City Association support a payment in lieu of taxes program for Evanston’s largest nonprofit organizations, including Northwestern University.
Beyond property taxes, Schechter said Northwestern University adds a strong student demographic to Evanston’s housing market and makes it difficult for families to find adequate housing.
“They’re building a lot of apartment buildings in Evanston and they’re these furnished micro units,” Schechter said. “They’re trying to accommodate students, rather than families. So if you’re a family with children, you have a hard time accessing these new housing developments.”
Schechter said the City of Evanston can do things to make housing more affordable. She suggests using funds collected through a tax increment financing district to help build affordable housing and expanding grants to help offset landlord expenses for repairs, property taxes and general upkeep.
Skokie is also exploring new ways to approach affordable housing. Skokie’s Board of Trustees in December voted to further explore the topic of affordable housing. At the Dec. 19 meeting, Schechter told Skokie village trustees current tradition considers those at 100% of area median income to qualify for affordable housing when these units should be set aside for those at roughly 60% the area median income.
Corey Schmidt is a freelance reporter with Pioneer Press.
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January 23, 2023 at 06:50PM