The Affordable Housing Plan still needs work and will be amended again, concluded the River Forest Plan Commission after some back and forth at its March 3 meeting. The new draft will be discussed at the April 7 meeting. Once the plan is finalized, it will be presented to the village board.

At the meeting, John Houseal, River Forest’s planning consultant, seemed at odds with the council on the topics of adding wording regarding TIFs into the plan and whether village-specific data should be included.

On Jan. 21, Houseal, presented an affordable housing plan that would address the village’s state-mandated need to add 39 affordable housing units to bring its overall percentage up to the state-required 10 percent. River Forest is currently at 9 percent.

At the March 3 meeting, Houseal said he’d made a “handful of changes” after the previous meeting to reflect what plan commissioners said they wanted to see. 

Commissioners, however, felt there were still changes that needed to be made. Two big areas they felt were lacking concerned TIF funds and how they relate to affordable housing and adding River Forest-specific data in addition to state-provided data.

Commissioner Roberto Armalas expressed frustration that discussions surrounding the TIF issue’s inclusion in the plan at the January meeting had been ignored and no information had been provided to the commissioners between the last meeting and the March 3 meeting.

Houseal said his concern after the last meeting was that “people didn’t understand what a TIF was and how it worked” and that he wanted to make sure the plan was worded correctly to reflect the intention of the commission as well as the law.

“We didn’t want to write something that didn’t reflect what you wanted, and we didn’t want to write something we couldn’t do,” said Houseal, adding, “We can highlight the potential of TIF funds” by pulling what’s already in the state statute and putting it into the plan, thereby reminding developers of using TIF benefits for affordable housing.

“I thought that’s what we agreed to last time,” responded Armalas. “I kind of feel overruled.”

“The omission wasn’t to subvert; it was to get it right,” said Houseal.

Another area of discussion focused on River Forest-specific data, whether it belonged in the plan, and what source would be best to use for it.

Commissioner Keary Cragan said although she understood that the data on which the plan was based had to specifically come from the state, she wanted the plan to provide a snapshot in time of where the village is in terms of median income, average house price, and how much people spend on mortgages, for example.

She added that she would also like to see a mention of the 30 percent limit on how much people should be spending of their income on mortgage, a number that was provided by public commenter and River Forest resident Daniel Lauber at the last meeting.

But Houseal said he wasn’t sure that 30 percent is the magic number.

“Is it 30 percent or 35 percent or 40? There’s not one universal number. Some people choose to live in RF knowing it’s going to be a higher percentage because it’s worth it to live in River Forest,” said Houseal. He said he was leery of adding additional data about income or housing costs because he wasn’t sure what data source would be appropriate.

Houseal said census data could provide average home price and average income. “But extrapolating average household income and average household price to a meaningful number on affordability can’t be done,” he said. The census doesn’t tie those two figures together on a one-to-one level. 

Cragan was insistent, however, that “at a minimum, we have to have census data,” stating that she wanted to see the commission “add context to the plan.”

A third major topic of discussion was how to protect affordable housing that already exists within the village. If the need is to bring the percentage of affordable housing up to 10 percent from the current 9 percent, losing units in potential redevelopment could be a problem.

Armalas said he realized dictating what a developer had to do could be problematic, but he expressed his reluctance to not address the issue at all in the plan.

“It’s nice to say we want to preserve clean water while we’re dumping stuff into it,” said Armalas. “One-to-one preservation maybe isn’t fair to developers. But if we don’t do that, how do we preserve the affordable housing we have?”

According to Houseal, the Development Review Board (DRB) presides over proposed development, and they would be looking at the comprehensive plan and the affordable housing plan to make sure the objectives are being met with any new development in the village.

During public comment, several residents spoke up about how they personally had, or do, benefit from affordable housing and thanked the commission for the work and time they’re putting into the plan. 

The most outspoken commenter was Lauber, who had sent a memo to commissioners ahead of time. He apologized for not sending the memo sooner but criticized the commission for not sending this new draft of the plan sooner.

“I only got ahold of this plan Thursday, which is hardly adequate time to review it,” said Lauber, who said he found the overall draft of the affordable housing plan lacking in several ways.

“This plan acts as if [meeting affordable housing requirements] is a burden and begrudgingly accepts it,” said Lauber.

Houseal will make changes to the document and try to send a revised version to the commissioners “by the end of next week.” The Plan Commission will meet again on April 7.

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