One of the interesting debates towns like Oak Park and Evanston have is how to leverage strong interest in new residential development into more affordable housing units.

Not many towns have the debate because you need two critical elements: Notable new development because your town has strong appeal and enough heart and smarts to recognize that affordable housing only adds to that appeal.

Some argue persuasively that demanding major developers “set aside” a fixed number of apartments in a large project and price them at affordable rates is the way to go. Others recognize that is a tough sell to make to developers and better to simply force notable contributions to an affordable housing fund.

That is the route Oak Park has taken during the building boom of recent years and we have accumulated a tidy pool of $1.2 million in that fund. There is at least another $200,000 due from a development currently under construction. 

Monday night the village board heard staff recommendations on five funding proposals and chose three to support. We’re enthused about Oak Park’s $500,000 in support, and effectively its approval, of the Community Builders project for Oak Park Avenue and Van Buren. First-rate developer, thoughtful project. Also worthy, in our eyes, is a joint effort from Housing Forward and the Oak Park Homelessness Coalition to fund transitional apartment housing. This $500,000 project, also including the Oak Park Housing Authority, focuses on families with small children or special medical needs. Top-notch collaboration among worthy agencies. Finally, the board approved a $1 million loan to Mercy Housing to fund an affordable housing project to be built on a site to be determined. Again, a first-rate developer.

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