River Forest considers paying people to rehab condos

But only multi-family housing within the new North Avenue TIF district

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By Nona Tepper

In reaction to residents worried their apartments or condominiums will be demolished with the arrival of the new North Avenue tax-increment financing (TIF) district, River Forest trustees are considering paying these property owners to make updates to those units, as a way to extend the life and value of affordable housing in the area. 

"If you invest in your homes and you preserve your homes there will be many dividends in the future, and we believe that," Village President Cathy Adduci said at a board meeting on Aug. 20. "I think this policy is to address those that live here, those that want to stay here. I heard many of them say all we want is to stay in our home. … We want you to stay in your home too and we want to help you stay in your home. That's really the impetus of this policy to just do that."

The North Avenue TIF has protections against eminent domain to single-family homes in the district, but the ordinance does not protect against eminent domain to multi-family housing. 

Under the proposed "Livable Housing Policy," the village could foot the bill for landlords rehabbing, repairing or remodeling their properties. Village staff reviewed the 266 current owner-occupied multi-family homes in the North Avenue TIF and found that at least 50 percent would qualify for village funds under the proposed policy. In order to receive funding assistance, the property owner needs to at least meet the affordable price limits set by the Illinois Housing Department Authority (IHDA), although village staff recommended a 5 percent variance to these limits so as to be as inclusive as possible. The policy could potentially be open to renters, too. Single-family properties were not included in this policy.

It could be "a group of homeowners coming in saying, 'Look we have this laundry list of issues, maybe we don't have a homeowners association, we need some help here.' And looking at that universally, as opposed to looking at it on a unit by unit basis," Village Administrator Eric Palm said at the meeting. 

The village hasn't nailed down the details of who, exactly, would be eligible to receive funds and what type of repair work the village would look into subsidizing. "I can only speak for myself at this point, I wouldn't be real excited about giving someone tax dollars to fix their kitchen," Trustee Michael Gibbs said at the Aug. 20 meeting.

But under the proposed policy, the village would only give out funds if there was enough available in the North Avenue TIF. Village staff would review resident requests for funds, and the village board would have the final say in whether they're approved or denied. 

At the meeting, resident Daniel Lauber spoke out against the policy, saying village officials should focus instead on requiring developers to include a certain percentage of affordable housing units in all new construction. As a trade-off, the village could allow developers to build a greater number of units than current zoning allows, he said. 

"They're making more profit, getting more units built with absolutely no taxpayer assistance, and the village and school district's reaping more property tax because the property is more valuable," Lauber said.  

He added: "Instead of focusing on this living housing policy, which doesn't really accomplish very much and does not address the concerns people have expressed in previous meetings, you adopt a policy to preserve existing affordable housing to houses now living in the TIF district by avoiding the tearing down of existing housing on North Ave. without affordable housing first being built."   

The policy was tabled at the Aug. 20 meeting and will be discussed at a future village board meeting.

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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