How can Evanston add affordable housing? The Housing and Community Development Committee discusses the options.


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

Members of the city’s newly formed housing and community development committee met virtually Tuesday evening to renew a pre-pandemic conversation about efforts in Evanston to build more affordable housing. New affordable housing plans in Evanston have been on hold since March 2020, when COVID-19 derailed discussion of a study of the city’s housing needs, but the committee ultimately met on October 19 to discuss the research.

Evanston Housing and Grants Director Sarah Flax began the hearing by reviewing a presentation on the findings of community engagement from the study conducted by the Pre-Pandemic Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee. According to this presentation, Evanston has lost thousands of low cost rental units since 2000, while the number of rental units paying over $ 1,000 per month has grown rapidly.

Committee members, city staff and consultants held 38 one-on-one meetings with local leaders 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 the most pressing housing issues are the lack of affordable housing for low-income households and the fact that paying to live in Evanston is becoming too much. increasingly difficult for the middle class, blue-collar families who also work here. Many residents have supported programs to develop more Accessory Housing Units (ADUs), which are additional housing units created on a pre-existing property with their own separate entrance, kitchen, bathroom and living space. .

“The dominant theme is more density,” said Mike Roane, an Evanston resident who was chair of the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee when he conducted the study. “You see a lot of recommendations for grandma’s apartments and smaller footprints and shared living, even multi-family units around transportation hubs or even easing restrictions on single-family dwellings. But overall the theme is more density, and I think going back to Economy 101, if you increase the supply, the demand decreases, and therefore the prices. [would not be] is increasing as rapidly as what we are seeing now.

According to Flax and 7th Ward committee chair and council member Eleanor Revelle, only a handful of ADUs currently exist in Evanston, a fact that other committee members have taken as proof that the town has failed. not done enough over the past two decades to improve accessibility. housing options, defined as when rent or mortgage costs are 30% or less of household income.

Community members on the committee criticized the high tax rates and unmitigated rent increases that have put a strain on tenants and landlords in Evanston, especially during the pandemic.

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

Resident and committee member Hugo Rodriguez, a real estate broker, said many people he works with would love to live in Evanston, but they just can’t afford Evanston’s rent or average mortgage for a single family home or a multi-bedroom. apartment. Rodriguez also said Evanston should look to other cities across the country like Portland, Oregon, which have successfully developed a large number of ADUs and other affordable housing.

“Evanston is really good on paper, but we really haven’t crossed that threshold,” said Rodriguez. “We have a lot of very complex issues that interfere with affordable housing, and we are losing people. We are spreading people who would like to live in Evanston in other communities.

Among other suggestions, committee members discussed changes to zoning requirements that would allow more developers to build ADUs and other means to encourage affordable housing. One option could be to ban property de-densification, which would prevent builders from converting a two-unit house into a single unit, said Jonathan Nieuwsma, a member of the city council.

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 that some of Evanston’s wealthier communities may have in. affordable housing. Cheap, well-maintained housing options are simply healthy for our planet, he said.

Flax concluded by saying that housing changes are essential for the success of the comprehensive city plan going forward because of how other important issues intersect with the topic of affordable housing.

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


Norma P. Rex