RF affordable housing plan finally reaches village board

Village must add 39 units

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By Robert J. Lifka

Contributing Reporter

The long-awaited River Forest affordable housing plan was unveiled at the May 26 virtual village board meeting but adoption will not occur until June 8 at the earliest.

The report from the Plan Commission was presented over the objections of Trustee Patty Henek, who said trustees had agreed at the January meeting that they would address the topic over two meetings before voting on adoption. Approval of the report was on the May 26 agenda in addition to the report and recommendation.  

In response to her request that the matter be removed from the agenda and scheduled for discussion at a committee of the whole (COW) meeting in June, village President Cathy Adduci proposed that the report be given as scheduled but deferring discussion to a committee of the whole meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday June 8 and a vote to the regular board meeting at 7 p.m. that day.

Adduci's proposal did not sit well with Henek, who repeated her desire that the matter be deferred completely, or with Trustee Tom Cargie, who said he supported voting on adoption without waiting until June.

"We have commissions for a reason, which is to vet these issues for us," he said, noting the commission had held four meetings on the matter. "I don't know what we would learn from a COW meeting that we don't already know."

Consultant John Houseal of Houseal Lavigne Associates presented the plan despite Henek terming the handling of the matter as being "very unfair to everyone involved with this meeting" and "so inappropriate."

The plan adopts the goal of bringing the percentage of affordable housing units to 10 percent of the total housing stock by pursuing two tracks. The first track is protecting and enhancing the existing affordable housing that currently exists in the village, primarily the multi-family residential along the village's perimeter corridors. The second track is concentrating attention on new multi-family and mixed-use buildings and providing developers of such buildings the opportunity of including affordable housing units.

The village board assigned the task of creating an affordable housing plan to the commission in October to meet a state mandate.

River Forest needs to add 39 affordable housing units to bring its overall percentage of affordable housing up to the state-required 10 percent. River Forest is currently at nine percent.

According to the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeals Act of Illinois, any municipality with less than 10 percent affordable housing is required to adopt a plan to remedy its lack of moderately-priced housing.

A 2018 report from the Illinois Housing Development Authority's (IHDA) pegged River Forest at nine percent. IDHA data shows that, of a total 3,788 total housing units in River Forest, 340 meet the criteria for being affordable.

David Crosby, commission chairman, gave credit for the creation of the plan to members of the plan commission as well as residents and representatives of community groups.

"The fingerprints on this document are from everyone on our committee," Crosby said. "We got some good suggestions from the community. We incorporated that and made changes at each of our meetings.

"So many people will be affected by this plan – residents and non-residents – a really wide spectrum of people that we are going to impact. It's exciting."

Houseal agreed that commission members deserve credit.

"We received feedback from a lot of commission members who didn't always agree on things but came to a really good collaborative effort to get us across the finish line," he said. "They really did a diligent job of looking at every sentence and every word, making sure it was right. If a sentence wasn't worded correctly, it was completely rewritten." 

In his presentation Houseal said the goal River Forest chose was one of three offered by the state. Goals not chosen were increasing the affordable housing stock in the village by 3 percent, which would have required creating 115 additional units instead of just 39, and making 15 percent of all new residential construction or residential redevelopment affordable, which would have a potential negative impact on the single-family residential market.

"Adding new affordable housing is difficult," he said. "It's easier to keep what we've got."

The plan identifies incentives that the village could provide to developers, including zoning mandates; dedicated taxes and fees; village subsidies; and subsidies through a non-for-profit entity.

The preferred incentive, however, is providing zoning bonuses, which would be in the form of relaxations to height, setback, parking and similar regulations and would serve as a means of encouraging and accommodating developers to include affordable housing units in new multi-family buildings.

The plan also offers possible additional considerations, including exploration of two possible amendments to the zoning ordinance. One would accommodate accessory dwelling units (ADU) as a conditional use in the R1 and R2 zoning districts and the other would accommodate integrated supportive affordable housing.

An ADU, which Houseal said is also called an in-law apartment or "granny flat," is a second small dwelling on the same grounds or attached to a regular single-family house, such as an apartment over the garage, a coach house on the back of the property or a basement apartment. If a part of a single-family house, the ADU would require separate access. He said Oak Brook is reportedly exploring allowing ADUs.

Integrated supportive affordable housing allows people who are developmentally or physically disabled to live independently. 

Houseal said the suggestion to explore amending the zoning ordinance to allow   integrated supportive affordable housing was the last change made to the plan at the last meeting and he credited Phil Carmody of Opportunity Knocks, a River Forest social service agency that supports people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, with making the suggestion. 

Another suggestion from the public that Houseal said led to "a lot of discussion" is recognizing that tax increment financing (TIF) funds are eligible for the provision of affordable housing.

"We didn't want to dictate that TIF funds are to be used," he said. "We wanted to highlight the fact that TIF funds are eligible to be used."

Although discussion of the plan was deferred to June 8, trustees were effusive in their praise for the work of commission members.

"There's a lot here and it is complex," Adduci said.  "We appreciate these volunteers spending a considerable amount of time.

"I think you guys did a great job," Trustee Bob O'Connell said. "I know how much public opposition you had on the subject."

Henek said she did not want Crosby and Houseal to think her actions reflected a negative opinion of the report, adding, "In no way was I questioning your good work."

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