Naperville supports affordable housing for households making $100,000-$125,000

Naperville is close to final approval for a new development on its southwest side that would include some affordable housing:

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The Naperville City Council this week gave the go-ahead for a developer to pursue an annexation agreement that would absorb the Naperville Polo Club into the city and open the door for the land to be transformed into a residential subdivision.

Mayor Steve Chirico and council members expressed support for the plan that would bring 252 single-family homes and 149 townhouses to 110 acres off 119th Street just east of Route 59. But they requested project tweaks mostly focusing on traffic flow and congestion…

Pulte plans to build four different home styles at differing price points, including a percentage of affordable housing dedicated to households earning $100,000 to $125,000 a year.

This is a follow-up to a recent post where I wondered about this being labeled as affordable housing. I would like to hear more from elected officials and city employees about how they see this serving the affordable housing needs of Naperville and the surrounding rea. Who exactly do they hope moves into such affordable housing? Why not offer cheaper housing? What does Pulte think of constructing affordable housing? There is a lot more that could be explored here but I suspect the involved parties will be happy to claim they helped provide “affordable housing” in a wealthy suburb.

I enjoy maps in the ground – and cite three examples

It is one thing to hold a paper map or look at a map in a book; it is another to encounter a map in the ground. In a recent trip to Holland, Michigan, I enjoyed seeing this map in the ground of a park overlooking Lake Michigan:

While the installation highlights the location of Holland, it also shows the size of Lake Michigan, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the world.

Here is another in-ground map, this time just southwest of the main library in downtown Naperville, Illinois:

The large map hints at the sprawling nature of the suburb while you can also see some of the details the community feels are important (see some of them in the close-up image of the downtown).

A third in-ground map that made a memorable impression of me as a kid was the Mississippi River installation on Mud Island in Memphis, Tennessee. To walk the vast length of the river, see important points along the way, and even play in the water was much fun.

To make the abstract map more concrete provides an opportunity to share places with a broad range of people passing by and help them better visualize the whole and its parts.

Changes in methodology behind Naperville’s move to #16 best place to live in 2022 from #45 in 2021?

Money recently released their 2022 Best Places to Live in the United States. The Chicago suburb of Naperville is #16 in the country. Last year, it was #45. How did it move so much in one year? Is Naperville that much better in one year, other places that much work, or is something else at work? I wonder if the methodology led to this. Here is what went into the 2022 rankings:

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Chief among those changes included introducing new data related to national heritage, languages spoken at home and religious diversity — in addition to the metrics we already gather on racial diversity. We also weighted these factors highly. While seeking places that are diverse in this more traditional sense of the word, we also prioritized places that gave us more regional diversity and strove to include cities of all sizes by lifting the population limit that we often relied on in previous years. This opened up a new tier of larger (and often more diverse) candidates.

With these goals in mind, we first gathered data on places that:

  • Had a population of at least 20,000 people — and no population maximum
  • Had a population that was at least 85% as racially diverse as the state
  • Had a median household income of at least 85% of the state median

Here is what went into the 2021 rankings:

To create Money’s Best Places to Live ranking for 2021-2022, we considered cities and towns with populations ranging from 25,000 up to 500,000. This range allowed us to surface places large enough to have amenities like grocery stores and a nearby hospital, but kept the focus on somewhat lesser known spots around the United States. The largest place on our list this year has over 457,476 residents and the smallest has 25,260.

We also removed places where:

  • the crime risk is more than 1.5x the national average
  • the median income level is lower than its state’s median
  • the population is declining
  • there is effectively no ethnic diversity

In 2021, the top-ranked communities tend to be suburbs. In 2022, there is a mix of big cities and suburbs with Atlanta at the top of the list and one neighborhood of Chicago, Rogers Park, at #5.

So how will this get reported? Did Naperville make a significant leap? Is it only worth highlighting the #16 ranking in 2022 and ignore the previous year’s lower ranking? Even while Naperville has regularly featured in Money‘s list (and in additional rankings as well), #16 can be viewed as an impressive feat.

Who is affordable housing in Naperville for? September 2022 edition

Two recent proposals aim to bring affordable housing to Naperville. The first project had 401 housing units and the affordable housing units within the development would be for this group:

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While the council has not adopted any measure requiring affordable housing, Pulte designed Naperville Polo Club in response to the city’s stated priorities, Whitaker said. They are committing to sell 20% of the town homes at an affordable level based on area median income, or AMI.

“Pulte will target buyers at 80-100% Naperville AMI consistent with household income targets set forth in SB Friedman’s Affordable Housing Program,” Whitaker said in the letter. “This target demographic for for-sale housing represents household incomes of approximately $100,000 to $125,000 and translates to a home purchase price below $440,000.”

With the median household income of DuPage County at over $94,000 and Will County at over $90,000 – Naperville spans both counties – this affordable housing is only accessible to people above the lower 50% of household incomes in the counties.

The second project involves affordable units set aside for two groups who need them:

It’s not often the Naperville City Council receives a standing ovation.

But it happened Tuesday after a 9-0 vote authorizing pursuit of an affordable housing project on city land southeast of the corner of 103rd Street and Route 59 on Tower Court. As part of the potential agreement for development, a minimum of 60 units would be built for seniors and for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

When the vote finished, more than a dozen audience members clad in red shirts with “I (heart) affordable housing” written on them stood and cheered the decision — more than a year in the making — that paves the way for young adults with special needs to live independently.

In both cases, housing is needed.

But, what is “affordable housing” about? Is it about keeping Napreville residents in Naperville like seniors and young college graduates? Is it about providing housing that provides no threat to larger homes and higher property values? Is it about providing units to those who live and work in wealthier suburbs but cannot easily afford to live there? Is it about providing units within a region where tens of thousands need affordable housing? Is it about providing housing for those who could not otherwise live in a wealthier suburb?

Limiting landmarked buildings in a suburb with a history of growth

Naperville, Illinois experienced explosive suburban growth after 1960. With demand still high for development in Naperville, evidenced by hundreds of teardowns and rising rent prices, the city council does not appear to have much appetite for landmarking buildings:

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On the heels of the Naperville City Council’s decision to deny landmark status to the downtown Kroehler YMCA facility, officials are proposing changes to the city’s landmarking procedures.

The changes, which need city council approval, are intended to reduce the impact on property owners and make it more difficult for applicants to achieve landmark status for structures.

The idea of forcing landmark status on property owners emerged as a key issue in February when the city council voted 8-1 to reject the request by Naperville Preservation to landmark the Kroehler YMCA against the owners’ wishes. The vote freed the owners to demolish and sell the site.

After numerous speakers at last week’s city council meeting debated the idea of creating more-stringent landmarking regulations, and based on recommendations by Councilman Ian Holzhauer, city staff was directed to return with an ordinance preventing individual citizens from applying for landmark status.

For at least several decades, historic preservationists in communities across the United States have argued that older buildings are worth preserving. Acquiring landmark status is a way to help ensure the structure retains its original form even as neighborhoods and streetscapes change.

It is less clear how well historic preservationist arguments work in suburbs where communities can be used to growth and the rights of individual property owners can reign supreme. As suggested above, landmark status can be seen as an impediment to property owners who can profit from changing or selling a property. Why save an older structure when there is money to be made and progress to be pursued?

If this logic wins out in suburban communities, how many older buildings will remain and in what format? It is one thing to save older buildings and move them or recreate them in a historical museum setting. It is another to preserve important older structures that mark important community locations even as communities continue to change.

The billions in sales generated in a big suburban edge city

Joel Garreau defined an edge city as a suburban place with lots of office and retail space. Just how much retail activity takes place? A recent report found the edge city of Naperville, Illinois generated billions in sales in 2021:

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Naperville continues to reign as the top suburb in retail sales for the fifth year in a row, a recent report shows.

The city in 2021 recorded sales of $4.3 billion, $540 million more than No. 2 Schaumburg, according to the annual report from Chicago real estate and retail consultants Melaniphy & Associates…

For Naperville, 2021 restaurant and bar sales climbed to a record $443 million, up 34% from 2020′s pandemic plummet to $330 million after hitting $431 million in 2019…

By far the largest contributor to retail sales in Naperville is under the automobile dealership and gasoline category.

In 2021, Naperville figures rose by 33% over the previous year to $1.7 billion, which was the highest percentage increase throughout the Chicago metropolitan area, according to the report.

Some of the lead for Naperville could be tied to their large population and land area. Many suburban communities are not this big. For example, Schaumburg has roughly a little more than half the population of Naperville and about half of the land area.

But, I am more interested in the absolute figures. One suburb had over $4 billion in sales. This is a lot of money in one community. And hundreds of millions were spent in numerous categories, including restaurants, groceries, cars, and lumber, hardware, and building supplies.

Naperville has several areas that help generate these sales. In northeast Naperville, Ogden Avenue and Diehl Road (and adjacent areas) have retailers, restaurants, automobile related businesses, and more. Downtown Naperville is a vibrant food and retail scene. The Naperville area adjacent and near the Fox Valley Mall has a lot of activity. Business activity in southwest Naperville is a more recent addition.

In short, Naperville is not just a bedroom suburb with a high quality of life: it is full of retail activity even as it contains thousands of homes and dozens of subdivisions.

New “Unvarnished” exhibit on Naperville’s exclusionary past

A new project from Naper Settlement shows how Naperville – and several other communities – excluded people for decades:

https://www.unvarnishedhistory.org/local-spotlights/naperville-illinois/

For more than 80 years, Naperville was a sundown town. After working in a household, farm or factory during the day, people of color had to be gone from Naperville by sundown…

A historical look at how diversity in the city and five other U.S. towns grew despite decades historic discriminatory practices and segregation is featured in a free online exhibit spearheaded by Naper Settlement and the Historical Society of Naperville.

“Unvarnished: Housing Discrimination in the Northern and Western United States,” found at UnvarnishedHistory.org, was developed through a $750,000 Institute of Museum and Library Services Museum Leadership grant. The Naperville historical museum and five other museums and cultural organizations collaborated from 2017 to 2022 to research and present their community’s history of exclusion…

“It is our hope that this project will act as a model and inspire other communities to research, share and reflect upon their own history. It is through this process that we are able to engage with the totality of history to better understand today and guide our decision-making for the future,” she said.

In doing research on Naperville and two other nearby suburbs, I had uncovered some of what is detailed in this exhibit. However, the local histories of the community rarely addressed any of this. Instead, they focused on the positive moments for white residents, typically connected to growth, progress, and notable members of the community.

Such an exhibit suggests a willingness for Naperville and other communities to better grapple with pasts built on privileging some and keeping others out. The history of many American suburbs include exclusion by race, ethnicity, and social class. This could happen through explicit regulations and ordinances, through regular practices, or through policies and actions not explicitly about race, ethnicity, or class but with clear outcomes for different groups.

As noted in the last paragraph above, hopefully these efforts do not end with past history but also help communities consider current and future patterns. For example, decisions about development – like what kind of housing is approved – influence who can live in a community.

Naperville’s status and Farley’s “Van Down by the River” performance inspired by Naperville bridge over the DuPage River

According to Naperville native Bob Odenkirk, he was inspired by his hometown when writing Chris Farley’s famous SNL skit “Matt Foley: Van Down by the River.”

Q: Speaking of “SNL,” that famous sketch for Chris Farley you wrote, about him living in a van down by the river — were you writing with Naperville in mind?

A: There is the DuPage River, and when I was writing that I did picture the bridge in Naperville over the DuPage. It was a bridge for stoners when I was a kid. Stoner kids hung out there. So this guy parking his van by a river — yes, that was the image I had.

There are several bridges Odenkirk could be referring to. Could it be this bridge (in a picture from nearly a decade ago)? This is a little removed from the busier downtown area and the more manicured areas of the lively Riverwalk.

Naperville has a reputation as a wealthy and large suburb with a thriving downtown and numerous high-status jobs. Does the image of a guy living in a van down by the river fit this or kids smoking pot by the DuPage River? Probably not and the city in recent years was not interested in marijuana dispensaries.

I cannot imagine a statue of Matt Foley near the DuPage River in downtown Naperville among the suburb’s collection of public art...but perhaps Odenkirk could eventually make the cut?

New publication – More than 300 Teardowns Later: Patterns in Architecture and Location among Teardowns in Naperville, Illinois, 2008-2017

I recently published an article in the Journal of Urban Design (online first) analyzing several hundred teardowns in Naperville, Illinois. Here is the abstract (and several of the pictures I took for the study depicting recent teardowns):

Analyzing before and after images of 349 teardowns between 2008 and 2017 in the wealthy and sprawling suburb of Naperville, Illinois, shows patterns in aesthetic choices and their fit in older neighbourhoods. First, the teardowns are significantly larger and have different features including larger garages and more windows. Second, over 60% of the teardowns feature Victorian styling. Third, the teardowns are often next to other teardowns in desirable neighbourhoods near the suburb’s vibrant downtown. These visual findings show how teardowns that add to the housing stock often imitate common architectural styles yet exhibit disparate features compared to older neighbouring homes.

This project had several starting points.

First, I started studying the phenomenon of McMansions back in graduate school and eventually published a study looking at how the term was used in the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News. The idea of a McMansion has multiple dimensions – size, relative size, poor architecture and design, and a symbol for other issues including sprawl and conspicuous consumption – and the word can be used differently across locations.

Second, I started studying Naperville in graduate school as part of a larger project examining suburban growth and development. I published some of this research in two places: (1) examining consequential character moments in different suburbs, including Naperville, and (2) analyzing the surprising population growth in Naperville that helped take it from a small suburb to a thriving boomburb. Naperville is a unique suburban community with lots of teardown activity in recent decades.

Third, I am broadly interested in housing. This is particularly important for suburbs where owning and protecting single-family homes – and all that comes with it – are primary goals. Additionally, residential segregation based on housing is a powerful force in American society.

All three of these streams helped lead to this project. And there is a lot more that could be done in this area as teardowns affect numerous neighborhoods and communities in the United States.

McMansions and Beanie Babies

A new documentary suggests the Beanie Baby craze began among big houses in Naperville:

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The Gist: It all started with a few white ladies in Naperville, Illinois – because of course it did. In the mid-1990s in the culs-de-sac of the affluent suburban Midwest, where triple-wide driveways flank brick McMansions, Joni, Becky and Mary Beth decided they liked cute little hand-sized stuffies produced by modestly sized toy company Ty Inc., and wanted to collect them all. An inauspicious beginning, yes, but one that would find Ty founder, future billionaire and eventual criminal tax evader H. Ty Warner ignoring how Mary Beth helped stir nationwide consumer frenzies for his products, and suing her for copyright infringement. So this story has its heroes and villains, a couple who fall somewhere in-between, and a nation of millions who caused a subsequent consumer demand for plastic totes so they can shove their hundreds of worthless Beanie Babies beneath the basement steps. (The real winner here? Probably Rubbermaid.)

Based on this short snippet, I am thinking of several possible connections between McMansions and Beanie Babies:

  1. These homes offer lots of space for storing and displaying the toys. All those bonus rooms and square footage mean the owners can have hundreds, no, thousands, of Beanie Babies.
  2. The people who can afford McMansions can afford a lot of Beanie Babies.
  3. Related to #2, those who live in McMansions, homes often criticized for their architecture and design, want to own lots of toys that became a fad.
  4. Perhaps the simplest explanation: roughly 50% of Americans lived in the suburbs by the 1990s, most McMansions are in the suburbs, Naperville’s population was booming at this time, and Ty Warner is from the Chicago area…meaning all of these spaces happened to collide in this toy boom.