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Council candidates share views on affordable housing, finances, mayoral appointments and more at Indivisible Naperville forum – Chicago Tribune

All the council candidates at the recent forum hosted by Indivisible Naperville agreed the city needs more affordable housing, better governmental transparency and a sustainability plan going forward.

Where they often diverged was on their ideas for accomplishing those goals.

Seven of the 11 candidates who are running for the four four-year council terms were asked a series of questions on a variety of topics.

Speaking to the crowd of more than 100 in the lower level of the Naperville Municipal Center, Patrick Kelly, Allison Longenbaugh, Rebecca Malotke-Meslin, Ashley South, Ashfaq Syed, Jodi Trendler and Madhu Uppal outlined why they should be chosen in the April 4 consolidated election.

A spokesman for Meghna Bansal at the forum said she was unable to attend because she was out of town on business.

Indivisible Naperville said Nag Jaiswal and Nathan “Nate” Wilson declined because they had other commitments, and Josh McBroom reportedly did not respond to the invitation.

With just 7.5% of Naperville’s housing stock considered affordable by the Illinois Housing Development Authority, candidates were asked how the council could reach the 10% goal, which equates to roughly 1,400 new housing units.

Malotke-Meslin said the incentives package recently approved by the council can get the ball rolling. But the city needs to work with developers to hit the target and without adding to the student population of Indian Prairie District 204.

She also said she wants to ensure everyone living in the city feels seen, heard and valued, whether through supporting diversity and inclusion or reinvesting in infrastructure.

Uppal called for more creative and inventive affordable housing solutions, including allowing conversion of some homes for in-law suites for older adults on a fixed income who have trouble finding housing.

A former Naperville Public Library Board member, Uppal said the council needs someone who can bring a truly nonpartisan perspective.

Because the city is running out of space for new affordable developments, South said the city should encourage developers to retrofit existing structures.

She added that the city needs to level the playing field so small businesses have the same power as larger ones. She’s also a strong supporter of mental health initiatives and committed to going green, she said.

Syed said the city should create a task force to research properties that can be developed for affordable housing and look for federal and state funds to help fund projects.

He cited his record of service in the community, including working as a trustee on the Naperville Public Library Board and as co-chair of the 2020 US Census Complete Counts Committee, as assets in the race.

Trendler said the city needs to be proactive to promote affordable housing developments and transition the existing stock of buildings into places where people live, work and shop in the same location and don’t have to drive.

She said her experience leading the Naperville Environmental Sustainability Task force, or NEST, will be helpful as the city moves forward with its five-year strategic plan that likely will include many of NEST’s recommendations.

Longenbaugh said not everyone wants a huge home, and the city must demand that developers offer some type of smaller housing that is affordable for teachers, police officers and firefighters who work in the city.

Currently a member of the city’s library board, Longenbaugh said her focus also is on sustaining essential services that give a big town like Naperville that small town feel.

Kelly, the only incumbent in the race, pointed to his support of affordable housing during his tenure the last four years. He voted in favor of the micro-unit apartment complex at the former Regency Inn motel on Ogden Avenue, pushed for CityGate West to include micro-units in its apartment plans north of Interstate 88, and encouraged the development of housing for seniors and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities on city-owned property at Route 59 and 103rd Street.

Kelly said he ran four years ago to bring a fresh perspective on long-term decisions that affect young families, like his, who are vested in Naperville’s future.

When it comes to funding public art, Malotke-Meslin said the council needs to ask why and make sure it’s a priority for the community. Groups like Century Walk need to provide transparency in how they spend money from the city, she said.

Regarding council members disclosing any campaign donation of $750 or more, South said leaders should lead by example and reveal any appearance of a conflict of interest. She added that she’d be willing to drop the threshold to $500.

When asked for possible improvements to the mayoral appointment process to the city’s 17 boards and commissions, Longenbaugh said the city needs to do a better job both of marketing what positions are available and of vetting candidates.

Syed, to the same question, said he’d like to see more community input in the process and a requirement that people have some type of experience serving in the community before they’re considered for appointment.

Uppal suggested the city’s human resources department could get involved with a team of people to see who is best suited for the mayor appointments.

To a question about what the city should do with $13.3 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds, Kelly said the council is intentionally waiting to see how the city bounces back after the pandemic so the money can be invested where the community will receive the biggest return.

He said he’d like to see the money fund infrastructure projects, like wastewater treatment or the police radio systems, that will save taxpayers money in the long term.

Trendler suggested spending the stimulus on standardizing city practices for its emergency response to disasters, such as the 2021 tornado or the COVID-19 pandemic.

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