NORTHBROOK – After months of contention about the design and tenant selection of an 18-acre development at 1000 Skokie Blvd., the mixed-use development will head to Northbrook’s Village Board Oct. 27 without a recommendation from the Plan Commission.
Advocates for affordable housing consider this a step in the right direction.
In September, opponents submitted nearly 300 signatures against the development and officials echoed concerns. Among those, representatives from Open Communities, a Winnetka-based housing, economic and social justice group, highlighted the lack of affordable offerings in the ooject’s 338-unit building.
“Northbrook knows it has a housing crisis,” said Open Communities’ Executive Director Gail Schechter in a Letter to Daily North Shore this summer. “Housing prices are rising at a significantly faster rate than incomes.”
According to Schechter, the village has not maintained its commitment to affordable housing as outlined in Northbrook’s latest Comprehensive Plan. Last year, the village approved a 347-unit, all-luxury rental property at NorthShore 770, now slated to open January of 2016.
If the 1000 Skokie Blvd. project does move forward, advocates said it’s important that at least 15 percent of the units – with rent ranging from $1,605 to $2,800 – are realistic for the workforce and large enough to accommodate families.
“Within a 30-minute ride on transit, 66,863 jobs are available from this address,” Schechter wrote. “… the Village can market Northbrook as, in President Sandy Frum’s words in a recent message to us, ‘a socially responsible, well-established and inclusive community.’”
Affordable housing is also on the Village’s radar in the form of a plan for 40 townhome at 1825 Shermer Road, the land formerly occupied by Maurice’s Sporting Goods warehouse.
At a Village Board meeting in late August, most all trustees agreed that “attainable” housing should be a priority, but were not as solid on suggestions to make this happen in a realistic way. Trustees identified density as a key contributor to meeting affordable housing goals though Village President Sandy Frum said she wanted to take a closer look at more numbers.
“What are we talking about when we say affordable?,” Frum said at the meeting.
Open Communities told trustees the organization would like to help in creating a workable plan as discussion on the development moves to the Village’s Plan Commission for public hearings. Ideally, housing advocates said, the Village would establish a segment of below market-price units in the complex, where home prices are currently slated in the $499,000 to $699,000 range.
According to Illinois Housing Development Authority data, an “affordable” home for a family of four is priced at slightly less than $169,000.
The truth about affordable housing
Since 2010, Schechter said the percentage of affordable housing in the Village of Northbrook has dropped.
According to the federal government, families who pay more than 30 percent of their income toward housing are not living affordably – meaning that to pay for a roof over their heads, they have to prioritize other basic needs like food, transportation, and medical care.
And according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), more than 12 million renter and homeowner households are paying more than 50 percent of their income toward housing. Schechter said these families are severely “shelter burdened” and one paycheck away from displacement.
Closer to home, Northbrook residents of all ages are strapped by housing costs, she added. The number of today’s shelter-burdened homeowners has nearly tripled to 30 percent, up from just 12 percent in 1990. More than half of Northbrook renters are burdened (54 percent) compared to 40 percent in 1990.
Communities can foster mixed-income housing through inclusionary zoning ordinances that require the development of affordable units within all new multifamily housing, expedited permit processes, density bonuses in areas close to public transportation, or other means such as pooling funds for affordable housing, Schechter explained.
“Mixed-income housing allows residents the option to stay as they age, creates a welcoming environment for all, and promotes a community that is diverse and cohesive at once,” she said.
In light of recent conversation surrounding affordable housing in Northbrook and across the North Shore, Open Communities shared some “myth-buster” insights to spread awareness and help educate community members:
- Today, buildings that are entirely “affordable” are developed by partnerships of private and not-for-profit developers using a combination of public and private financing. They are small-scale, often upgrades, of existing buildings or new construction with state-of-the-art energy conservation features, and architecturally designed to fit into the character of the community.
- People who need below-market rate housing are no more likely to have children than anyone else. The subtext for luxury housing is often promoted as “young professional” and “empty nester” housing. This kind of marketing violates Fair Housing law by discriminating against families with children.
- Most people who want below-market rate housing in our communities are already here. They are grandparents who can no longer drive or manage stairs; municipal, service or storefront workers who are tired of the commute; and people with disabilities who want to live independently.
- Affordable housing is not exempt from paying property taxes and the most subsidized housing is not affordable housing but luxury housing. For example, developer-requested zoning variations and parking lots are expensive to taxpayers. And the IRS mortgage interest deduction for all homeowners costs more than four times the HUD budget.
- Homeowners of below-market rate houses cannot resell their units to make a killing on the market – nor do they want to. They want to live in “limited equity” housing because they prioritize living in the community over potential profits – which makes them the best neighbors.
2015 Justice Summit
With more than 80 partners, Open Communities’ The Justice Project: The March Continues, aims to unite residents and organizations in creating inclusive, diverse and just north suburban communities across 16 towns.
As part of this grassroots effort, a Justice Summit at Oakton Community College on Oct. 11 will offer opportunities to educate and learn about elements of a Welcoming Community, plus best practices to further justice and create an inclusive culture.
The Justice Summit is offered free of charge with lunch provided and will begin with registration at 11:30 a.m. Participants are encouraged to join for an afternoon series of one-hour workshops geared towards establishing “Justice Team” campaigns in the suburbs in which they live or work.
For more information on Open Communities, The Justice Project and this weekend’s Justice Summit, visit open-communities.org.