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Tempers Flare as Winnetka Halts Affordable Housing Debate

Village trustees voted to shut the door on affordable housing for now.

Affordable housing, and the role of government, were on trial on Tuesday night.

At the end of a five-hour meeting, village trustees voted 4-3 to stop the affordable housing discussion in . Residents, workers and even , packed the room, with some spilling into the hallway and others sitting on the floor, through more than two hours of debate on a resolution to halt further discussions on affordable housing in a town without diverse housing stock.

"We are trying to end the divisiveness in this community," said Trustee Richard Kates, who drafted the resolution, before public comments began. According to Village Attorney Katherine Janega, future councils must draft legislation in order to discuss affordable housing in the future.

At the November meeting, trustees took a straw poll and said they would heed the results of this year's Winnetka Council Caucus poll, which suggested that most people who took the survey do not want to pursue affordable housing. About 25 percent of Winnetka households took the survey, according to the Caucus website.

In the name of civil rights

Resident Marc Hecht was one of 11 to speak against the resolution. "Sometimes legislators are dutybound to lead even if it is not popular," he said, referencing the Caucus results.

Hecht also called the resolution comparable to "taking a stick and poking it in the eye of the Illinois Attorney General, and daring her to sue Winnetka to enforce the State Affordable Housing Act. Picking a fight with the State of Illinois, on what will be seen as a traditional civil rights issue, is just crazy."

Another speaker against the resolution was former trustee King Poor, who called the resolution "plain unnecessary and uncalled for."

"It will make Winnetka stand out for going out of its way to be hostile," Poor said.

Two members of the Plan Commission spoke against the resolution, as well as a former Caucus Village Committee Chair*, Jan Bawden. "I respectively submit that you don't get to quit," Bawden said. "It's not pretty, it is not convenient, but it is all our jobs."

Winnetka lost 37.5 percent of its renter-occupied units between 1980 and 2000, according to the Plan Commission.

In support of small government

Six people spoke in favor of the resolution to end affordable housing, including Carry Buck, who led the charge against affordable housing as chairwoman of Winnetka Home Owners Association (WHOA).

"Some things that were said tonight surprise me," Buck said. "Shouldn't the trustees represent the majority of the people?"

Others mentioned a desire to avoid "federal dollars" in Winnetka, and to keep "big government from reaching into our community."

The Dance of the Trustees

For about an hour, the trustees shared their views on the discussion and acknowledged some wear-and-tear. Trustee Jennifer Spinney said her feelings were hurt by some of the comments suggesting the council was not working on the issue. Trustee Gene Greable said he has been losing sleep. Trustee Christopher Rintz shared his personal story of moving into Winnetka as an outsider. "I never thought I'd see these people turn away from controversy," he said.

After everyone shared their opinions, it was time to vote.

Trustee William Johnson expressed hesitancy at voting, and began asking the village attorney for clarification on the lasting implications of the amendment.

"No council before this council has ever taken something off the table for future councils," said Village Attorney Katherine Janega. "No council really should do that, in my opinion."

When Kates spoke out against this, Janega fired back, "I do not mince my words or shape them according to some political outcome. I have 30 years of experience in this subject area. ... You may take whatever I say and disregard it, shape it, but please do not misrepresent my words."

As the exchange continued, Village President Jessica Tucker said, "You do not need to berate our village attorney." Later Trustee Arthur Braun suggested that Janega's words had changed the tone of the issue.

Two trustees put forth an amended resolution with a temporal distinction. The wording of the amended Section Two of the resolution reads: "Given the current condition of the economy, cost of land and lack of meaningful development opportunities in the village, it is the opinion of the council that the Amended Affordable Housing Plan adopted May 10, 2005 not be amended further at this time."

In the end, the trustee vote was split, with Tucker breaking the tie in favor of the amended resolution.*

The debate about diverse housing options in Winnetka is suspended.

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* Dec. 8 11:30 a.m. Clarification: We added the word "amended" to make it clear that the 4-3 vote was on the amended resolution, not the original resolution provided by Trustee Kates. We changed Jan Bawden's title from Caucus chair to Caucus Village Committee Chair.

niwrad December 09, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Clearly, Ms. Schechter has nothing to hide. But Ms. Buck continues to threaten and concoct conspiracies without proof.
John King December 09, 2011 at 07:36 PM
I honestly found the comments of Mr. Saunders not that helpful, as I am unclear on how the plan as written will help with his individual situation. My impression is that it will not. But there were many comments by others that were equally unhelpful. There was, in fact, little substantive discussion of the measure at all except by the representatives of the Plan Commission, who, I would guess, are the most knowledgeable on the topic. If one attended the meeting to try and learn more about Winnetka's Affordable Housing Plan and form an educated opinion, I am afraid that they went away unfulfilled. They did get an education on the philosophical positions of many of the Trustees and commenters, however. Personally, that and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee.
Gail Schechter December 09, 2011 at 07:45 PM
I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify several assertions left hanging by WHOA and Trustee Kates with regard to housing in Winnetka and affordability strategies: 1. Highland Park's inclusionary zoning program works; development was not stifled due to the requirement of an affordable housing set-aside in new multifamily construction. When the Highland Park representatives spoke to the Winnetka Plan Commission at the Commission's invite, they did say that they had to make some adjustments (e.g., allowing developers to allow for simpler amenities in the affordable units), but that the results have all been powerful. At the July Commission meeting, the Highland Park staff person said, as quoted in TribLocal, "I think it’s been a great opportunity for people to stay in the community, first and foremost." http://triblocal.com/winnetka-northfield/2011/05/26/winnetka-hears-from-highland-park-on-affordable-housing/ 2. Winnetka *can* have senior housing and it *can* have a community preference. Affordable developments can have community preferences. The fine point is that it is illegal to have housing developed without an age restriction, but put age as a preference. In other words, Winnetka cannot allow a regular multifamily condo or rental development to make Winnetka seniors a top priority. It can only put Winnetkans of all ages on the top of the list. Non age-restricted buildings violate the Fair Housing Act when they discriminate against families with children.
niwrad December 09, 2011 at 07:50 PM
Ms. Schecter, no offense, but this is just too much information and facts and real data!!! I think WHOA and Winnetka would rather take pot-shots about the handbag that a renter was carrying. separately, I don't understand Kates at all. Wasn't it strange that Kates voted FOR the amendments, then voted against the resolution with amendments?
Gail Schechter December 09, 2011 at 07:55 PM
3. Trustee Kates referred to listings of condos for $80,000 in Winnetka. He did not indicate if these were short sales, which they likely were. I could not find any even close to this price doing research in the Tribune's classified section or the leading real estate web sites. Read my fellow Patch blogger Paul Gorney's caution on short sales: http://winnetka.patch.com/blog_posts/wilmette-winnetka-and-kenilworth-foreclosed-homes-are-they-worth-the-trouble
John King December 09, 2011 at 07:56 PM
My impression was that Trustee Kates wanted his original version to pass, which was why he voted against the amended version. I don't know why he previously voted for the amendments, unless it was due to the atmosphere in the room. This probably goes against "good government" rules, but I think it's not such a great idea to amend and then vote on measures during meetings. To me, the sentiment in the room was clearly affecting Trustees' thinking. Maybe that's a good thing; I don't know.
John King December 09, 2011 at 08:05 PM
Ms. Schechter, I was confused by that too. Those prices appeared to be much lower than I've seen in Winnetka. I couldn't find anything recently sold for that price point, but I may have missed something.
Gail Schechter December 09, 2011 at 08:09 PM
More on inclusionary zoning and Highland Park -- Patch did a very thorough job covering that presentation in Winnetka (and I was there, so I know this is an accurate report): http://highlandpark.patch.com/articles/highland-park-offers-winnetka-affordable-housing-tips Several trustees, including Mr. Kates, correctly pointed out that inclusionary zoning is of limited benefit as an affordable housing generator in a built-out community precisely because it depends on piggy-backing on new construction. For communities like Highland Park, Winnetka, and others that are built out on the North Shore, the benefit to having such a policy in place is that it plans for the future, and it guarantees uniform requirements. This is a relief to developers who only want to know the groundrules, and it's efficient for the municipality because it precludes deal-making. It is inevitable that there will be development opportunities in the high-density districts of Winnetka. The Village should plan now for the future.
Gail Schechter December 09, 2011 at 08:28 PM
The Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs is a 39-year-old not-for-profit based in Winnetka whose mission is to promote inclusive and diverse north suburban communities. In 2012, our budget is about $700,000 covering 9-full time staff, 2 half-time, and 2 hourly Outreach Workers (going door to door to let an estimated 2,000 homeowners with foreclosure summonses know that the Cook County Circuit Court Foreclosure Mediation Program can help them with free legal and counseling help). We have staff who speak fluent Polish, Russian, and Spanish to accommodate this limited English-speaking population in our area. What do we do? We've provided foreclosure prevention counseling to over 200 families and seniors in the last year; provided advice to another 200 tenants who wanted to know their rights, including helping them organize; facilitated 35 Homesharing matches, where we help home providers, mostly seniors and single parent families, remain in their homes by finding an individual looking to live closer to work, family, or school (rents ranging from near free in exchange for services, to $550/month); we investigate complaints of housing discrimination through testing (that is, deploying trained investigators to record their experiences so we can evaluate differential treatment); and we educate and advocate for fair & affordable housing throughout 16 northern suburbs. Visit us at 614 Lincoln or go to our web site www.interfaithhousingcenter.org. Thanks!
Ann Dillon December 09, 2011 at 08:39 PM
When Gail Schecter, on behalf of IHCNS, publicly states verbally and in print that "One person's nefarious manipulation is another's sound public policy. In short, we interfere with the market to promote a concept of the common good", it doesn't take much of a leap to speculate on whether their activities include sponsoring a "poser" in an effort to manipulate public policy in Winnetka, such as the enactment of a IPMC. Ann Dillon
niwrad December 09, 2011 at 08:45 PM
As everyone knows, you are the supposed "brains" behind WHOA/Carry Buck's bark. But to admit that the BEST YOU'VE GOT TO HURL is "a leap to speculate" just states you have no proof of anything nefarious about this girl, never have and never will. Otherwise, the REAL press would have been all over a story of a "poser." No one believes this conspiracy theory b.s. This girl does not deserve WHOA's cyber-bullying. It's clear from the pics you've posted that you've invaded her FB "privacy." Please stop.
John King December 09, 2011 at 09:00 PM
Are you claiming that the IHCNS or others are lying to get specific policies enacted? If so, you should say so and then provide some hard evidence to back that up. If not, then you should know that is how your post reads.
blackwidow December 09, 2011 at 09:01 PM
With you niward! Also, these unfounded WHOA accusations and distractions (from conversation, real information, etc.) have to stop. I'm embarrassed to be a Winnetka homeowner when I read them.
Ann Airey December 09, 2011 at 11:34 PM
To John, regarding your comment about "sentiment in the room" affecting Trustees' thinking: I think you raise an interesting point. My understanding of the Village Council meetings is that the Trustees are not to come into the meeting with minds made up, but to listen to public commentary and the opinions of other Trustees and Village Staff, and make decisions based on that information. That said, they should also have the courage of their convictions and be willing to make what appear to be unpopular choices if they believe it is for the good of the town. That is the sign of a strong leader.
NELLY December 10, 2011 at 01:33 AM
Isn't it fun when the WHOA cyberbullies come out into the open, instead of remaining in their carefully manipulated/controlled blog, which claims to "never" censor any comments, and purports to publish ALL those unsolicited "thank yous" from ALL those different (unknown) people?
Winnetka December 10, 2011 at 05:13 AM
It's awesome to see people, all 8 of them, coming out on this blog, in support of housing subsidies, aka housing entitlements, aka affordable housing, aka redistribution of other people's money. I just love limousine liberals. Those cute, self righteous, adorable hypocrites. Now if I had a million tax payer dollars awarded to me...er... I mean my non-profit, what would I do? Maybe I could pave the driveway(it looks like a dump), I could hire a "civil rights" attorney to sue a mostly wh ite, affluent town. I could hire a bunch of testers and release them on all the unsuspecting property owners & real esate agents in town, whose tax dollars paid for the cool million I got er my non-profit. I could by some Clairol or Just for Men- really either would be fine. I could finally afford to live in Winnetka(but I hear the taxes are super high, so that would suck-the taxes I mean.) I could march in the town parades with a big float that says "Join HUD Scouts today" it really pays-Like 1 Million dollars!! I could send thank you notes made from recycled organic free range cotton to the local public schools that told kids,during a school assembly, to encourage their parents to support affordable housing at the village meetings.(cause when you can't get normal adults to support your cause, kids are a great alternative, because they don't know any better.) I could go to Neiman Marcus and buy expensive colonge/parfum. Paying for things is way easier and more fun using other people's money.
John King December 10, 2011 at 01:51 PM
@Ann, thanks for the clarification. I agree with your points, but still wonder if it makes sense to make major amendments to a proposal and then vote on it in the span of an hour or so. I guess it must work, otherwise we'd do something else.
John King December 10, 2011 at 01:54 PM
I'd flag this but it should stay on here to show the tenor of the conversation. To me, this is prime evidence that Trustee Kates's sincere desire to end divisiveness around this issue is wishful thinking at best.
Ann Airey December 13, 2011 at 12:06 AM
@John - exactly. Unbelievable.
Lynn Sanders December 14, 2011 at 04:27 AM
I'm shocked, saddened and offended by the nasty, vicious, and unjustified comments by the WHOA supporters. No one deserves to be attacked in cyber-space. There is no reason to intentionally hurt other people. As adults, I would hope that people could discuss their views politely. I'm very grateful to Interfaith Housing Center for their good work, and believe that everyone benefits from a community that offers affordable housing. I'm not into debating... this is my conviction.
Mary Carlisle December 16, 2011 at 06:54 AM
You know what? Even if the approach isn't very elegant, the ideas behind the post by Winnetka are right on target. If I were you and I really wanted to save my town from this affordable housing nonsense, then I would keep it at bay as long as possible. Obama, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, and all their "progressive" minions are truly trying to change our lives and redistribute wealth. Make no mistake about it, it's the same old bleeding heart liberal crap that's destroyed and is destroying so many other towns across America. What these Marxists fail to explain, however, is that eventually you run out of other people's money. Then what? Furthermore, this regime demonizes wealth, working Americans. So how exactly does a free society function when everyone is poor? Well it doesn't. Again, I encourage you to dig your heals in and fend off liberal policies in your town as long as possible. Enjoy your Freedom as long as you can. P.S. And vote against obama in 2012.
John King December 16, 2011 at 04:03 PM
I'd say Winnetka's approach is much worse than inelegant. Can you please make clear what the President, Barney Frank, or Chris Dodd have to do with Winnetka? There are many poor and free societies which work; India comes to mind. There are many free and rich societies which are openly socialist; Sweden comes to mind. I don't know if I would want to live in either one, but saying that you can't be free and poor or rich and socialist is just not correct. Speaking of freedom, the freedom to discuss beliefs and ideas seems like a good one. Trustee Kates's proposal, backed by WHOA, would have removed that freedom with respect to affordable housing. So who's on the side of free societies and who's not?
WHOA December 16, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Hi Everybody. WHOA was delighted with the amendments to the Kates Resolution that Trustee Greable introduced - and that later passed. All is well that ends well. Oh, and for the record, Trustee Kates' resolution would not have "permanently" removed freedom with respect to affordable housing in any way shape or form - that is a myth. All Resolutions and Ordinances can be amended up the road. Including Trustee Greable's version. So let's end this tedious discussion as the 2011 Caucus Platform Plank #5 suggested. Or let's not. Democracy rocks! God bless America - and especially our beautiful little home town of Winnetka. We wish EVERYONE peace and joy during this holiday season. Amen. Carry Buck
John King December 16, 2011 at 05:10 PM
The proposal would have ended all discussion and resolved not to take it up at any time in the future. The content of the proposal is what I referred to, not to legislative procedures that apply to any ordinance. By this logic, those who support affordable housing should demand that it be passed because, after all, it can always be amended. I don't think that argument would carry much force with WHOA, but maybe I'm wrong about that.
Winnetka resident March 24, 2013 at 07:07 PM
I wonder why Gail Schecter and her associate Brendan Saunders who are funded by HUD and DO NOT live in Winnetka are allowed to give voice to Affordable Housing in Winnetka Village Meetings at all. They have come into this village and attacked residents, like those from WHOA, in a most unseemly manner. It must stop. It is creating ill-will, divisiveness and dissension. They do not pay taxes. They do they live here and they should not be welcome into a Village Meeting nor should they be allowed to voice their agenda on behalf of their initiative to direct the policies and the taxes of a village they do not live in. Community Organizers and Alinskyites are now more clearly understood to create havoc, and are but a scheme to blackmail others for funds, as seen in the Community Reinvestment Act, the CRA, which nearly brought down the economy of the USA with their fraudulent Fannie and Freddie loans. Those NINJA (no income, no jobs, no assets) loans were given to those who could not and did not make their payments on their homes. It was a scheme and Schecter's plan is of the same order.
Winnetka resident March 24, 2013 at 07:10 PM
There are very few Winnetka residents who were in favor of Affordable Housing. It was stunning to see the woman--Becky, who led the Winnetka commission on consideration for Affordable Housing, and her husband stand at a meeting stating they would like one of these subsidized properties for their retirement or for their children who at this time cannot afford to buy a home in Winnetka. If through these redistributive policies she hopes to achieve her dream of a subsidized retirement house ...it would be more honest to stand on a corner with a can and at least ask for our money rather than simply mandate it into our taxes through the Affordable Housing initiative. Further, as Chris Rintz makes his living from building subsidized Affordable Housing he should not be in a position to vote for or against Affordable Housing in Winnetka as he is not an unbiased bystander nor a fair and balanced advocate for Winnetka but rather for himself and for his business. That alone should keep him from running for the only board position that sets Winnetka's agenda. There are people that sat on the commission who invest and are invested in Affordable Housing projects. That should have barred them from vetting the Affordable Housing topic. I suggest future committees are more thoroughly investigated for those who have a personal agenda.
Winnetka resident March 24, 2013 at 07:13 PM
Taxes are already sky high. Those with a personal agenda who want to add to our already heavy tax burden and create dicussions to that end must be Winnetka residents. Because of the havoc and ill-will surrounding Affordable Housing the village discussion ignored many other topics concerning our village's future. We must concentrate future discussions on our budget, our schools, our employees and the general well being of Winnetka.
Winnetka resident March 24, 2013 at 07:13 PM
I wonder why Gail Schecter and her associate Brendan Saunders who are funded by HUD and DO NOT live in Winnetka are allowed to give voice to Affordable Housing in Winnetka Village Meetings at all. They have come into this village and attacked residents, like those from WHOA, in a most unseemly manner. It must stop. It is creating ill-will, divisiveness and dissension. They do not pay taxes. They do they live here and they should not be welcome into a Village Meeting nor should they be allowed to voice their agenda on behalf of their initiative to direct the policies and the taxes of a village they do not live in. Community Organizers and Alinskyites are now more clearly understood to create havoc, and are but a scheme to blackmail others for funds, as seen in the Community Reinvestment Act, the CRA, which nearly brought down the economy of the USA with their fraudulent Fannie and Freddie loans. Those NINJA (no income, no jobs, no assets) loans were given to those who could not and did not make their payments on their homes. It was a scheme and Schecter's plan is of the same order.
Lynn Sanders March 25, 2013 at 03:34 AM
Please stop verbally attacking Gail Schechter, Becky, Chris Rintz and Brendon Saunders, and everyone else who believes in affordable housing. It is immature and nasty to act so rudely. These are wonderful people, who don't deserve your diatribe. It is NOT true that very few people support affordable housing. I'm a Winnetka resident in support of affordable housing. And I know plenty of others who feel the same way. What IS true is that the majority of people in Winnetka have not voted. Only 27%. More people who opposed affordable housing made it to the polls. But that doesn't mean we have to stop our discussion of an important issue. Why shouldn't Winnetka have affordable housing? We need diversity and options for single families and seniors. Besides that, we need to be able to have discussions without resorting to mud-slinging. Life is short. If you don't agree with someone, that's fine. But please turn off the verbal abuse. Is that possible?
Antonia Duhe April 09, 2013 at 04:35 PM
They are scabs

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