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How can Evanston create affordable housing? The Housing and Community Development Committee is discussing options.

Some examples of possible affordable housing developments were presented at the meeting on Tuesday. (Graphic from the presentation of the Housing and Community Development Committee)

Members of the city’s recently formed Housing and Community Development Committee practically gathered Tuesday night to re-launch a pre-pandemic conversation about Evanston’s efforts to build more affordable housing. New plans for affordable housing in Evanston have been put on hold since March 2020 when COVID-19 slipped away from discussion of a study on the city’s housing needs, but the committee finally met on October 19 to discuss the research.

Evanston Housing and Grants Manager Sarah Flax started the hearing with a presentation on the results of the pre-pandemic community engagement study conducted by the Steering Committee on Affordable Housing. According to that presentation, Evanston has lost thousands of lower-priced rental units since 2000, while the number of rental units charging more than $ 1,000 per month has grown rapidly.

Committee members, city officials and consultants held 38 one-on-one interviews with local guides and residents, as well as 23 small-group discussions with a total of 200 participants. Based on these conversations, the study found that the people of Evanston believe that the most pressing housing problems are the lack of affordable housing for low-income households and the fact that paying for life in Evanston is becoming increasingly difficult for the blue middle class – Collar families who also work here. Many residents supported programs to develop additional housing units (ADUs), which are additional housing units built on an existing lot with a separate entrance, separate kitchen, bathroom and living space.

“The overriding theme is more density,” said Mike Roane, an Evanston resident who chaired the Steering Committee on Affordable Housing when the study was conducted. “You can see a lot of recommendations for granny flats and smaller floor plans and shared apartments, even multi-family houses around transport hubs or even the easing of the restrictions on single-family homes. But overall the subject is denser, and I think back to Economics 101: if you increase supply, demand decreases, and with it prices [would not be] increases as fast as what we are currently seeing. “

According to Flax and Committee Chairman and 7th Ward Ald. Eleanor Revelle, Evanston currently has only a handful of ADUs, a fact that other members of the committee saw as evidence that the city has not done enough in the past two decades to improve affordable housing, defined as the cost of rent or mortgage of 30% or less of household income.

Parishioners on the committee criticized the high tax rates and unrestricted rent increases that have weighed on Evanston tenants and homeowners, particularly during the pandemic.

This Evanston Apartment Affordability Chart shows the number of units available at various rents. In general, the number of cheaper units has decreased while the more expensive options have grown. (Graphic from the presentation of the Housing and Community Development Committee)

Resident and committee member Hugo Rodriguez, a real estate agent, said many of the people he works with would love to live in Evanston, but they just can’t pay the average Evanston rent or mortgage on a single family home or apartment. Rodriguez also said Evanston should be on the lookout for other cities across the country like Portland that have successfully developed large numbers of ADUs and other affordable housing.

“Evanston is really good on paper, but we really haven’t crossed that line,” said Rodriguez. “We have a lot of very complicated problems that hinder affordable housing and we are losing people. We are pouring out to other communities who would like to live in Evanston. ”

Among other suggestions, committee members discussed changes to zoning requirements that would allow more developers to build ADUs and other ways to incentivize affordable housing. One option could be to ban land compaction, which would prevent builders from converting a two-unit home into one, said Councilor Jonathan Nieuwsma.

Rodriguez said the city should focus some of its efforts on educating the public about the importance of affordable housing to stop the current “not in my backyard” approach some of Evanston’s more affluent communities may have when it comes to affordable housing goes. Cheap and well-maintained housing options are simply healthy for our planet, he said.

Flax concluded by stating that housing changes are essential to the success of the city’s overall overall plan because of the way other key issues combine with affordable housing.

“We have gaps in opportunity in our community in many ways, and we need to start addressing them all,” Flax said. “There are differences in transportation, there are all these other things that we have to look at that are affected by our living. If you think of it, living is the backbone of everyone’s life. ”

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