Making Oak Park housing affordable?

Developers would have to include affordable units or pay under ordinance

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

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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Reader Comments

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Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: February 17th, 2019 11:51 PM

This is the place to come for laughs. The same persons complaining Oak Park is unaffordable for *them because of the taxes want to make sure it stays unaffordable for *others who can't afford it in the first place. Gee, it's almost as if the complainers want *their taxes reduced and everybody else's sky high. Kind of like the recent GOP tax cut that let Amazon and Netflix pay not one penny of taxes while middle class people and the poor have their refunds wiped out and their income taxes go sky rocket. All Oak Parkers are created equal, but some Oak Parkers are more equal than others. Especially the right wingers.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: February 13th, 2019 3:33 AM

Inclusionary zoning can only give you one of two outcomes - 1. The builder includes affordable units in the proposed development. In order for the development to make financial sense, the developer need substantial zoning relief. The developer will request height and unit variances, in return for the affordable units. So, the village ends up with a grossly overbuilt site; 2. The developer pays a "donation" to an affordable housing fund. In return, the developer is granted height and unit variances. Again, the development is grossly overbuilt for the site. The developer can pay the "donation" because of the additional profit from the increased units. The development also avoids having any affordable units in their building. The "donation" is then used to build grossly overbuilt housing developments in South Oak Park. Then the taxpayers subsidize the affordable housing development because it will not be taxed at the same rate as a market based development. Look at the proposed $15 million development at 801 S. Oak Park Avenue. The proposed annual taxes are $48,000. If this was a market rate development, the taxes would be close to 4% of value, or $600,000. So, the other taxpayers have to make up the difference of almost $550,000 annually. Pick your poison. Don't listen to the pied pipers of affordable housing. The money has to come from somewhere, and it is the taxpayer.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: February 13th, 2019 12:23 AM

Since the pastors are involved in telling us what to do on this issue, perhaps they could comment on the very many, very large, church owned private homes that pay zero property tax in town. If we just collected property taxes on those many parcels, that money could instead be used to fund some extra affordable housing. Does a mansion really need to be tax free just because a church owns it? Its not one or two, there are a lot of these in town.

Dan Lauber  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 6:24 PM

If adopted the staff recommendations would give Oak Park one of the weakest and least effective inclusionary zoning ordinances in the country. Of course, the board assigned the task of producing an ordinance to Ms. Grossman who had publicly opposed adopting inclusionary zoning. Anan and Pope clearly do not understand inclusionary zoning because when it's done properly, it encourages economic development while getting affordable housing built at no cost to taxpayers. But they choose to do a Trump on inclusionary zoning and misrepresent what it is and how it should work. For what should go in an effective inclusionary zoning ordinance, see

Janet Haisman from Oak Park  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 6:04 PM

Were either of the two respondents (so far) at the Village Board meeting last night? I was not, but I watched it on Channel 6. I had also been to another meeting where some of the same people who work with affordable housing educated us about how this works. It is not a fine; it is not a negotiation (which is what I think we do now). It is a set percentage or fee that is paid in lieu of actually setting aside an apartment. (If I am wrong, I would appreciate one of those same persons letting us know.) Evanston, for example, got much more money for affordable housing from Albion than we did, because their IZ mandated what had to be paid. It appears to be a much better way of dealing with this situation than we have now. The builders who do this for profit still make enough money, and the Village gets money to put into subsidized rents throughout the Village. Am I right?

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 5:46 PM

Exactly Jeff. Thanks for bringing common sense to the discussion!!!!

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 1:41 PM

Of course these fines mean little to developers if they are getting property tax breaks at the same time. I sense that this will be just one more item of negotiation. After all, developers won't do buildings unless the numbers work for them.

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