Letter to the editor: Affordable housing crisis needs coherent, unified city policy – Evanston …


Evanston has an affordable housing crisis. Forty percent of residents spend more than a third of their income on housing, which means they have to skimp on food, health care and child care. Over 300 children in Evanston schools are currently homeless.

The Community Alliance for Better Government unequivocally supports the creation of more affordable housing in Evanston to address these needs. However, the city’s lack of a coherent, unified housing policy results in the perpetuation of economic and racial segregation in Evanston. Tantamount to creating gated bubbles, these developments diminish the quality of life and a sense of community for all.

Evanston’s inclusionary housing ordinance is so weak, requiring only 10% “affordable” housing, that it creates few mixed-income new developments. Moreover, developers often prioritize studio or one-bedroom units, which are not conducive to housing a family. Furthermore, the affordable unit provision sunsets after 30 years. It seems that many projects, such as the Legacy building proposed by Horizon Realty, add the least amount of affordable units possible in order to get around zoning requirements, without substantially increasing the amount of affordable housing stock. Indeed, studies show that luxury development leads to displacement rather than stability for lower-income residents.

The market will never support the development of housing for lower income people and people with disabilities without public policy intervention. For this reason and as a matter of justice, CABG endorses the “Housing First” model adopted by Connections, which places people experiencing homelessness in stable housing, enabling them to address issues that may have contributed to their housing insecurity. These Evanstonians deserve the wraparound support that can be provided by trained, highly qualified round-the-clock staff in order to ensure a safe environment to heal and thrive.

CABG wholeheartedly supports Connections’ operation of the Margarita Inn, which has 24/7 on-site staffing, and which has proven that it can provide a safe home in a transitional living space. We reject the notion that affordable housing or shelters will inevitably lead to crime and disturbances.

Inadequately staffed developments, with individuals warehoused rather than engaged, lead to tragedies such as the death of an elderly resident at the Claridge, an Evanston low-income residence owned and managed by Housing Opportunity Development Corp. The death was not discovered until two weeks later, when other residents began complaining of the smell.

HODC does not provide on-site staffing, and has been dismissive of resident and neighborhood complaints amid hundreds of police calls. Claridge residents have been displaced by three fires since 2016, which HODC Executive Director Richard Koenig blamed on resident carelessness.

CABG urges the City of Evanston to hold all property owners accountable for the health and welfare of their residents, with extra oversight of those who house people struggling to live independently.

HODC has proposed a 44-unit development for low-income families on Church and Darrow, two blocks from Evanston Township High School. These units are sorely needed, but given the concerning practices of HODC, and the concerns of neighbors, the city should demand a property management plan and the accommodation of Evanston’s housing-insecure families in this new residence. The State of Illinois has made it clear that such preferences can be permitted for affordable housing development as long as they promote rather than impede housing access for people of color and other types of people protected by law.

The City should also dust off its West Evanston Master Plan and convene neighbors to update and breathe new life into this plan for a vibrant, just and connected neighborhood. Before any further projects are entrusted to HODC, the city needs to do a full investigation into the management issues at the Claridge and why an unhealthy and untenable situation has been allowed to continue for so long.

Finally, we would support investing more in Community Land Trust programs, such as those created by Community Partners in Affordable Housing. These programs allow low-income families to build equity and can provide consistent, affordable housing for decades.

The City of Evanston must stop supporting housing development that cuts Evanstonians off from one another. Instead, the City must promote housing that reflects the community we want to be: safe, caring, and welcoming.

Sebastian Nalls,
on behalf of the CABG Board

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March 17, 2023 at 11:06PM

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