Affordable Housing Strategy Outlined at Forum
Winnetka residents hear various authorities discuss updating plan and report suggestions.
After six years of fact gathering, the Winnetka Plan Commission on Sunday released what it considers the best course of action for the future of affordable housing in the village.
About two dozen residents sat in the brightly lit auditorium of at Carleton Washburne School, which prides itself on "exploring possibilities for the future," while commission Chairwoman Becky Hurley along with Village President Jessica Tucker and representatives from state and local housing authorities discussed the housing plan, which will be submitted for council approval in late fall.
Their discussions included what the affordable housing plan would mean for building construction and housing costs.
The event was hosted by the League of Women Voters, who stated in a recent press release that the affordable housing plan is one "by Winnetkans for Winnetkans [addressing] a combination of circumstances that are particularly hard on seniors who want to stay in town."
According to a recent village report, 170 of Winnetka's 4,176 dwellings are affordable for residents, as measured by the state in 2005. If the village decides to pursue inclusionary zoning, an updated ordinance will have to feature an amendment that requires 15 percent of buildings with seven or more units to be affordable for a four-person household that makes between $75,100 and $105,140 in annual income and is looking to own a unit.
The amendment would also make rental properties available in the buildings for families of four that make between $45,060 and $75,100, which is 60 percent and 100 percent, respectively, of Winnetka's area median income.
Affordable housing in Winnetka has been a source of heated debate in recent years. Proponents argue that it is a moderate way to allow local workers to live in the village, while opponents argue that it is too much government involvement for a village that voted for home rule in 2005.
Though the village has not taken a position on the issue, Tucker assured the audience that “we are elected to govern and tackle all issues before us.”
The report also shows that in 2000, senior citizens made up 22 percent of households earning less than $50,000 a year in Winnetka. They also comprised 43 percent of households in the village earning less than $25,000 annually.
“The lack of affordable housing,” according to the report, “contributes to households becoming cost-burdened.”
Plans for the Future
Creating affordable housing in any municipality is time consuming, but the benefits can include more eco-friendly dwellings and a greater diversity of residents, said Robert Anthony, executive director at Community Partners for Affordable Housing in Highland Park.
According to Anthony, Highland Park has become a model for affordable housing in the U.S., and his organization thinks Winnetka can learn from some of its neighbor's initiatives, such as rehabbing old homes and creating Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified dwellings.
“Some of these strategies may or may not work in Winnetka,” Anthony added, “but we feel it's very important to leave it to the community to decide what kind of strategy makes the most sense.”
Unlike Highland Park, the Plan Commission decided that a housing trust fund is not the best method for Winnetka. Capital for that fund would have to come from village-imposed fees, real estate transfer taxes and external sources such as donations and grants, according to the report.
Inclusionary zoning units, however, “would be built at the developer's expense [and] require no financial support from the village, although public policy initiatives may provide incentive,” the report explains.
One Resident's Perspective
Peggy O'Connor, who lives in affordable housing in Highland Park, spoke against the stereotypes such developments have received in the past.
To think that they all draw crime and poverty is simply misleading, O'Connor said. Instead, she argued, affordable housing strengthens bonds between neighbors.
Moreover, the handicap-accessible apartment she calls home has made life easier for her and her disabled husband.
“I am proud to stand here and speak out for affordable housing in my community,” O'Connor said. “I have ethics and commitment. I take pride in where I live, whether I own it or rent it.”
Toward the end of the forum, residents asked each representative questions about affordable housing specifics—pertaining to state requirements, renting-or-purchasing waiting lists and initiatives taken in previous years. No one took the microphone and spoke bluntly against affordable housing at the meeting.
Tucker explained to one resident that any questions regarding what the village considers viable are "more appropriate for the council to answer." That includes having the village's legal counsel present, she added.