Rendering for the proposed luxury condo development at Lake and Lathrop in River Forest. (Sedgwick Properties)

Affordable housing extends far beyond the narrow scope of the tepid, unoriginal plan adopted June 8 when the River Forest village president cast the tie-breaking vote over the objections of the more than 90 percent of River Foresters who voiced an opinion on the plan.

The village president and three candidates for trustee appear to think that “affordable housing” is only for households with incomes well below the Chicago metropolitan area’s median household income.

If they adhere to that misconception, River Forest sits near the bottom of the barrel. The latest Illinois Housing Development Authority data reveal that 96 percent of Illinois’ 1,298 municipalities have a higher proportion of affordable housing than River Forest does. 

(Don’t get all high and mighty, Oak Parkers; 93 percent of Illinois towns have a higher proportion of affordable housing than Oak Park.)

But economists, planners, and HUD have long used a much broader measure of housing affordability — the measure others and I tried in vain last year to get River Forest officials to use in the plan.

“Affordable housing” includes housing being affordable to the middle class, too. Affordability is measured in terms of the percentage of cost-burdened households: households spending 30 percent or more of their monthly income on housing, and severely cost-burdened households spending 50 percent or more. More than a quarter of River Forest homeowners and more than four in 10 renters are cost burdened. Nearly a quarter of our tenants are severely cost-burdened.

Significant proportions of River Forest’s middle class residents — seniors, nurses, teachers, first responders, librarians, social workers, and even our adult children — are having a tough time remaining in or moving to River Forest. The median sales price of River Forest homes in 2019 was $675,000 with 28 percent valued at $750,000 or more and 60 percent at $500,000 or more. Fewer than a third of River Foresters have annual household incomes topping $200,000 — able to afford a $600,000 home. The median River Forest household income was about $122,000 — able to afford a $366,000 home.

New developments here exclude the middle class. You’d need an annual household income of at least $296,666 to buy one of the Lake/Lathrop units, which average $890,000 despite a multimillion-dollar village subsidy. You would have needed an income of at least $150,000 to buy any of the townhomes had 1001-1011 Bonnie Brae been approved.

River Forest needs the “missing middle housing” for the middle class — which is what trustees Patty Henek, Katie Brennan, Erika Bachner and I wanted the affordable housing plan to address. We sought in vain for a village commitment that developments in the TIF districts don’t displace middle-class residents with high-cost construction most River Foresters cannot afford.

The village’s Affordable Housing Plan that our village president championed never addressed the missing middle housing. The plan is actually so hostile to affordable housing, that one highly-regarded planner who recently read it reported, “It’s the most anti-affordable housing ‘affordable housing plan’ I’ve ever seen.”

Village president aspirant Patty Henek and trustee contender Johann Buis are the only candidates who understand that River Forest’s middle class needs affordable housing too. See all the candidates’ answers on affordable housing at the Activists Toolkit (https://www.activisttoolkit.org/2021-river-forest-voter-guide). By hanging their hats on the “most anti-affordable housing ‘affordable housing plan’ I’ve ever seen,” the other candidates reveal they’ve just jumped on the affordable housing bandwagon without any commitment to enabling middle-class River Foresters to remain in the village that they’ve made so great.

Dan Lauber, a 34-year River Forest resident, is a planning consultant and fair housing attorney focused on the preservation and creation of affordable housing since the 1970s. He maintains the website http://www.riverforestmatters.com.

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