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City Council discusses where to allocate ARPA funds

Interim Community Development Director Sarah Flax updated City Council on the city’s approximate $5.7 million remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds Monday.

ARPA, a federal COVID-19 pandemic relief act, was signed into law in 2021 to provide economic relief. Evanston received about $43 million to spend on fiscal recovery and has allocated more than $37 million to date.

At the meeting, Flax and councilmembers proposed their visions for where to spend funds and considered affordable housing, job creation and health initiatives.

Flax said the city’s community outreach identified affordable housing as a primary need. she told The Daily in the case that Evanston’s lack of sufficient affordable housing stretches back at least to the 1960s.

For instance, she suggested using ARPA funds as well as tax increment funding toward issuing a long term loan to a 44-unit housing project on Church Street.

“Investing in affordable housing was one of the primary needs identified throughout community outreach,” Flax added.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the city has spent millions of dollars on businesses, but has not focused enough on affordable housing — the lack of which was exacerbated by the pandemic, he said.

“It’d be a shame if we got through this entire process of spending almost $43 million and we did not use any of it to either build new affordable housing or support the expansion of affordable units,” Reid said.

Richard Koenig, executive director of the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation, said in a Jan. 17 Housing & Community Development Committee meeting that households earning less than 60% median income will be able to live in the apartment project.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said he thought other funds could instead be better allocated toward affordable housing — such as the money set aside for tax increment financing, which generates money for economic and infrastructure development as property values ​​increase.

“I would emphasize business district improvements,” he said. “Downtown is for everybody, not just the 4th Ward.”

Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) and Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said they wanted to use some of the money for health initiatives, as well.

Geracaris said he wanted to look into the city’s mental health services due to feedback he’s heard from residents about mental health after the pandemic. Evanston already allocated up to $900,000 for a planned walk-in mental health crisis center called the living room.

“We know that mental health services are continuing needs and we have to think about where the gaps are in our services,” he said.

Burns said he would like to use part of the money to launch a program structured similarly to the city’s current guaranteed income pilot program. His program would support community members affected by chronic illness and include payments for nutrition, fitness and mental health.

In December, City Council spent $700,000 in ARPA money on a guaranteed income pilot program, which is currently distributing $500 each month to 150 residents over the course of a year.

City committees have also put forth four proposals on funding distribution.

The Housing & Community Development Committee requested $500,000 for assistance to small landlords. It also asked for $50,000 to go toward the workforce development program of The Mather, a senior living residence.

The Economic Development Committee requested $550,000 for the proposed new location of Whole & Free Foods Manufacturing Facility, a branch of a Chicago building that creates allergen-friendly food. Flax said it would also generate about 50 jobs, prioritizing low-income individuals.

The Parks and Recreation Department requested more than $600,000 for Meridian barriers, which will be used to direct traffic during community events.

Council must finish allocating all ARPA funds by the end of 2024.

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Twitter: KristenAxtman1

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