The Oak Park Board of Trustees moved closer to approving an inclusionary zoning ordinance that would require residential property developers to provide affordable units in their developments or contribute money to an affordable housing fund.

The details of how much developers must contribute, whether that includes cash or physical units and how affordable the units would be were among the top issues up for debate at the Feb. 12 village board meeting.

Housing is considered affordable when the household contributes not more than 30 percent of its total income towards housing.

The village has previously negotiated affordable housing with developers on an individual basis – some have contributed units and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars into the village’s affordable housing fund, while others contributed nothing.

According to Tammie Grossman, director of development customer services for the village, 22.6 percent of Oak Park’s housing is considered affordable by the standards set out by the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act. That is up from 18.4 percent in 2013. Evanston, by comparison, claimed 17.5 percent affordable housing stock in 2018.

A report by the village notes that of the 21,327 units available in Oak Park, 4,814 are considered affordable under the definition set out under the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act – 3,694 of those are rentals.

Village staff provided a number of recommendations for the board to consider, suggesting that the ordinance require that new developments of 25 units or more make 5 percent to 10 percent of the units affordable.

Staff also recommended that the ordinance set affordability at 80 percent of the area median income for rentals.

“Housing is considered affordable if a household is paying no more than 30 percent of its income towards housing costs,” Grossman said.

Village staff also recommended giving developers the option of paying a fee of between $50,000 and $100,000 per unit in place of including actual affordable units in the development.

That money would go into an affordable housing fund, which could be used to help kick start affordable housing projects or provide rental assistance for low-income residents.

Staff also proposed only imposing the affordable housing requirement on developments within a quarter mile of Chicago Transit Authority and Metra lines.

Grossman also suggested the village provide various incentives to developers for include fees, allowing for denser, taller structures and reducing the number of parking spaces required.

The village recommends reducing building permit fees by a percentage equal to the percentage of affordable units required in the multi-unit buildings. A 10-percent zoning requirement would result in a 10-percent reduced permit fee, for example.

The ordinance also would not apply to condominium buildings, only apartment buildings and townhouse developments.

At the beginning of the meeting, which was meant to be a study session for trustees, Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb called on the board and the public for a “balanced policy” that contributes to affordable housing but doesn’t drive away economic development.

“We want a policy that makes it feasible to produce plenty of these affordable units,” he said. “To do that, the economics have to work.”

Trustees did not vote on the proposal at the Feb. 12 meeting, but did reach consensus on the idea of removing the Austin Green Line CTA stop from the affordable housing ordinance over concerns that it could stifle potential future development in the area.

Several residents and local leaders testified at the meeting, encouraging trustees to act on affordable housing.

Rev. C.J. Hawking, pastor at Euclid United Methodist Church, noted that Evanston has a 10 percent affordable housing requirement, Chicago 10 to 20 percent, New York City 20 to 30 percent and San Francisco 30 percent.

She added that Evanston recently increased its in-lieu rate from $100,000 per unit to $170,000.  

Hawking called on the board to adopt a rate of 15 to 20 percent and at least a $200,000 in-lieu rate.

“Oak Park is a leader across the country and it’s time to lead on inclusionary housing,” Hawking said.

Rev. Eric Biddy, pastor at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, called on the board to adopt “a robust and effective ordinance that meets the mayor’s criteria and makes us a leader on this issue” and to make sure that the “well-being of poor folks [is] at the forefront of your deliberations.”

Former Village President David Pope, who now serves as executive director of Oak Park Residence Corporation and the Oak Park Housing Authority, which provides housing for low-income individuals, said he supported Abu-Taleb’s call for a policy that doesn’t hinder economic development and agreed with the recommendations made by village staff on the ordinance.

“Make sure that it’s economically viable,” he said. “We can put the sky’s the limit on what we want to charge somebody for a new unit or a payment in lieu, but if nothing happens and nothing gets done, then there’s no money to help provide for the actual creation of affordable units. I want you to look at that with a really clear eye about what’s realistic.”

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