End of the conversation about affordable housing in Winnetka

I highlighted earlier this year (original post in March, update in April) a public discussion taking place in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka over affordable housing. After a vote last night, Winnetka has decided to table this discussion:

The six trustees were evenly split on a resolution to take several Plan Commission recommendations off the table. Village President Jessica Tucker broke the tie by supporting the resolution to drop talks about the issue.

The Plan Commission began studying affordable housing in 2005, and in April offered its recommendations to diversify the village’s housing stock by encouraging rental apartments and coach houses, as well as sub-market rate condominium units in qualifying future developments.

On Tuesday, village trustees cited a Winnetka Caucus survey in which a majority of respondents opposed affordable housing by more than a 2-to-1 margin…

The three most controversial components of the plan were “inclusionary” zoning, a housing trust fund, and a community land trust. After being sent back to the advisory panel for more consideration, plan commissioners voted to withdraw their recommendation regarding a community land trust.

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised. Wealthier suburbs, like Winnetka, often don’t desire affordable housing because of connotations the term has with poorer residents, lowered property values, and a diminished community image.

The Winnetka Caucus Survey is interesting in of itself. As the Causus notes, “One out of every four households in the village completed this survey.” This is not exactly a representative sample although this isn’t terribly different than the percentages of people who tend to turn out for local elections across suburbs. Here is how the survey gave background for the affordable housing questions:

Beginning in 1979, the Winnetka Plan Commission identified the need for modest-priced housing for seniors,
young families, and those who work in the community. For a variety of reasons, over the ensuing years
Winnetka lost many rental units and restrictions on renting coach houses further impacted the stock of modest priced housing. In 2004, the State of Illinois enacted the Affordable Housing Act, and under it Winnetka was required to file an affordable housing plan. However, in 2005, Winnetka adopted Home Rule and asserted its rights to have local control over the affordable housing issue. That same year, Winnetka filed an Affordable Housing Plan with the State declaring that Winnetka would assert its Home Rule authority and not be subject to the State’s standards for Affordable Housing. The Village Council instructed the Winnetka Plan Commission to conduct further studies and propose a customized affordable housing plan for Winnetka. The resulting proposal from the Plan Commission includes zoning, code changes and other options to foster the availability of modest priced housing. It expands its vision to establish a program to set aside some units as affordable housing units and creates tools that bridge the affordability gap for qualified households. This Affordable Housing program is limited to multi-family units within Winnetka’s commercial districts and includes preferential access to these units for long-time residents and those who work in the community. Because of the higher affordability standards, it would not qualify for state or federal affordable housing funds or fit under Section 8 housing. The new program would engage local government – either the Village Council or an appointed agency – in housing issues, as the new administrator would determine (according to the program’s guidelines) who may live in these affordable housing units and at what cost. Resources would be required to manage the program and properties on a permanent basis (i.e. forever) and, potentially, to purchase property. Further, the program would require developers of multi-family projects to dedicate a portion of their units to the Affordable Housing program in which the units would be sold or rented at below-market “affordable” rates.

On the whole, respondents were against the village getting involved in these housing issues with 85% of respondents saying “It is not appropriate for Village government to be involved in determining who can live here and what prices can be charged for housing in Winnetka” and similarly negative responses to specific pieces of the affordable housing proposal (pages 5-10 of the PDF). Interestingly, there was also strong support (over 60%) for Winnetka needs more affordable housing options for seniors” and “Winnetka needs more affordable housing options for those who work in the community.” Providing this kind of affordable housing is more of “workforce housing” for which some suburbs openly advocate. So if people want these housing options but don’t want the affordable housing proposal run by the village, how exactly might this get done?

Despite the low number of people who completed the survey, the Winnetka Caucus Council has a long history and likely is an influential force in the community.

3 thoughts on “End of the conversation about affordable housing in Winnetka

  1. Pingback: Quiet issue: over 60,000 on CHA waiting list | Legally Sociable

  2. Pingback: Living as the only Section 8 resident in a wealthy suburb | Legally Sociable

  3. Pingback: Why Americans love suburbs #3: race and exclusion | Legally Sociable

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