Fix River Forest's flawed affordable housing plan

Opinion: Columns

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Daniel Laube

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Speak up this Monday or the River Forest Village Board will adopt a very flawed affordable housing plan that does nothing to prevent the current or future village board from using its power to collaborate with developers to force out current residents of modest means, especially the seniors who helped make River Forest so desirable.

It's critical that concerned neighbors attend the village board's Committee of the Whole Meeting via phone at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, June 8 to voice their support to add provisions to the plan to save the housing that nurses, teachers, bank associates, retired seniors, librarians, our children, social workers, first responders, office workers, small business owners, and others with an income below the village's $107,000 median in 2013-2017 can afford.

You can download the plan (with commentary on its flaws and factual errors) at http://www.riverforestmatters.com. Instructions for attending the board meeting by phone are also posted there.

The majority of the Plan Commission rejected nearly every effort to fix the flaws in the affordable housing plan. While the plan has improved since its first draft, which inaccurately depicted affordable housing as a burden on villagers, it still sets a goal for 10 percent affordable housing, making that a ceiling rather than "at least 10 percent." It also contains misleading information and lacks the essential policies needed to assure that the village does not use its power to collaborate with developers to force out our neighbors with modest incomes, especially seniors.

On Monday, we need to urge the village board to add provisions that recommend:

Amending the River Forest Comprehensive Plan to set a policy to preserve existing multi-family and single-family housing (there actually is some) affordable to households of modest incomes

Adopting a precise policy for TIF districts to preserve existing housing affordable to households of modest means and/or replace it with affordable units in new developments on a one-for-one basis

Amending the zoning ordinance to establish incentivized inclusionary zoning that grants a density bonus (which is now just being given away) only if at least 15 percent of dwelling units in a new development with multi-family housing is affordable to households of modest incomes 

The reasons why are detailed at http://www.riverforestmatters.com.

And we need to convince the board to replace the misinformation on housing cost burden with accurate, factual data. The last page of the plan badly distorts the cost-burden concept that planners and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have used for decades to determine housing affordability. The village's consultant told the Plan Commission that households should spend 30 percent of their gross household income on housing, intimating that it's undesirable to spend less than 30 percent — a factually inaccurate conclusion. 

In reality, a household is cost-burdened when it spends 30 percent or more of its gross annual income on housing; severely cost-burdened when spending half or more. The plan, however, never mentions that more than 42 percent of River Forest tenants are cost burdened — more than half of them severely cost-burdened.

It never reports that almost 29 percent of River Forest homeowners with a mortgage are cost burdened as are nearly 26 percent of our homeowners without a mortgage — all documented by the U.S. Census.

Spending 30 percent or more on housing squeezes the finances of households of modest means, forcing them to cut back spending in their community on other essentials, rarely allowing them to save money for a down payment. The local economy, as well as these households, suffer.

In an age where citizens feel powerless, this is one time that we can make a difference — if a large number of us speak out this Monday evening.

Daniel Lauber, a 32-year River Forest resident, has worked as a city planner to preserve affordable housing since the 1970s.

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