Skokie sets goal of focusing on affordable housing supply, preserving existing housing stock – Chicago Tribune

The Skokie Plan Commission last month sent a list of recommendations to the Board of Trustees addressing its continued affordable housing study, however, affordable housing activists are frustrated the recommendation lacks establishing a Housing Commission to provide a proactive approach going forward.

Skokie Director of Community Development Johanna Nyden presented the recommendations to the Plan Commission on March 16. After hearing residents’ feedback during the commission’s housing study, Nyden said the village shifted its top goal to focus on regularly studying Skokie’s affordable housing supply. She said there are housing-based programs already established in Skokie but the continuous study will better assess these programs’ progress.

Staff has “moved (around our goals) to prioritize reporting on the ongoing supply and demand of affordable housing in Skokie,” Nyden said.

Nyden’s report suggests the village update its comprehensive plan to create a more thorough affordable housing component, monitor best practices set by housing experts like Regional Housing Solutions, an organization that identifies housing submarkets and strategies for addressing housing challenges, as well as by providing regular insight into affordable housing progress and ongoing strategies to better educate residents.

“(We need to make sure) we’re communicating the work that’s being done and getting feedback,” Nyden said.

Goal B explores preserving Skokie’s existing affordable housing stock, according to Nyden’s report. Nyden, via the DePaul University Institute for Housing Studies, shared that 11.7% of Skokie’s housing stock is two-to-four-unit multi-family structures. She said this offers Skokie a “unique opportunity to improve smaller-scale housing that supports the neighborhood character of Skokie” without solely focusing on creating massive apartment buildings.

Nyden says this can be done by bolstering existing housing repair programs. This will particularly help people who are aging remain in their homes and reduce the high costs associated with holding off on maintenance issues, she said.

Other ways to invest in current housing include creating a residential vacant home registry. Vacant housing units increased to 6.8% in the 2020 census compared to 2% in the 2000 census. Studying the feasibility of establishing a Skokie land trust and code enforcement for rental units was also covered in Nyden’s recommendations.

Skokie Neighbors for Housing Justice, an activist group, requested the village create a land trust during the village’s recent study exploring affordable housing issues. A land trust is an entity providing affordable housing to low-to-moderate-income households with a written agreement and managed by a nonprofit organization or board.

The activist organization also expressed concerns about Skokie workers being unable to afford housing in the village. It has called on officials to create affordable housing reform because, it said, the incomes of several of the village’s own staff puts them in the 76% of Skokie renters and 79.9% of Skokie homeowners making less than $50,000 a year, ultimately spending more than 30% of their income on housing.

Nyden’s presentation addressed this concern and suggests reducing the “jobs and housing mismatch” to ensure Skokie is affordable to all Skokie workers. She said the village needs to better understand where Skokie workers live and what new housing opportunities would make living in the village more attractive.

The recommendation also discusses exploring an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, which would require certain new development to include affordable housing. Specifics regarding the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance are still in the works but Nyden said the village is analyzing policies implemented by Evanston, Arlington Heights, Deerfield, Highland Park, Lake Forest, Northbrook, Oak Park and St. Charles.

Skokie Neighbors for Housing Justice Spokesperson Gail Schechter said she was happy with how the affordable housing conversation turned out, citing the village’s interest in ongoing conversations. However, she said some key items are missing, and the lack of a Housing Commission is a chief concern.

“We (want) the creation of a Housing Commission. The Plan Commission is not equipped to look at housing as a basic human need,” Schechter said. “There’s a contradiction between a commission that would look at something like Carvana to maximize income for the village versus housing and what we all need to create a community.”

The activists established a list of tasks the commission would perform, Schechter said, which includes regular community outreach sessions, assisting in the comprehensive plan’s housing chapter, monitoring housing policy, establishing a community land trust and more.

A proposed housing commission “job description,” drafted by Skokie Neighbors for Housing Justice, suggests commissioners consist of Skokie residents with housing expertise, different housing industry stakeholders and residents who are homeowners, condominium board members, renters and housing program participants.

Schechter told Pioneer Press she worries Skokie will take a reactive approach to housing issues if the Housing Commission isn’t established.

Since local policies go through a committee or commission before reaching the Board of Trustees, she said it might be difficult for housing issues to surface.

“The Board of Trustees says they often review a policy after it has gone through a commission, so the board has positioned itself to come up with new ideas through its commissions,” Schechter said.

The Village Board will review the Plan Commission’s recommendations on April 17.

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April 11, 2023 at 08:23PM

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