Village Begins Consideration of Affordable Housing Policies

Village Begins Consideration of Affordable Housing Policies

The topic of affordable housing recently has been raised on a number of occasions by residents and Village Trustees in connection with proposed residential development projects. The Trustees announced in May that increasing affordable housing would be a top priority, and took steps to start exploring policy options. An introductory workshop revealed a host of issues, beginning with fundamental questions of defining the goals of a policy.

Although Illinois passed affordable housing legislation back in 2003, home rule communities like Northbrook are not required to abide by state quotas. Nonetheless, the Village has taken action in the past to encourage the creation of affordable units, such as the establishment of Crestwood Place for seniors that offers below-market rental rates. The Village developed an Affordable Housing Plan in 2005, but economic pressures have hindered progress toward its goals.

According to statistics from the Illinois Housing Development Authority, less than six percent of Northbrook’s housing stock fits the state’s definition of “affordable.” With high demand in the Village for single family homes, small older structures are often demolished to make way for larger, more expensive residences. A strong rental market has also led to a steady increase in rent levels, to the point where Northbrook currently has no available rentals that could be defined as affordable, according to research by Village staff. Crestwood Place, mentioned above, currently has a waiting list of 61 applicants.

At a Committee of the Whole meeting, Director of Development and Planning Services Tom Poupard presented the Trustees with a detailed report outlining Northbrook’s past efforts, current demographic and housing market conditions, and examples of tools that communities can use to preserve or increase the supply of affordable housing. The report identified areas in the Village that currently have more affordable housing units. The presentation also offered an in-depth look at Highland Park as a city with an established policy, allowing the Trustees to see how Highland Park’s requirements of making 20% of new projects affordable would have affected current development projects in Northbrook.
For example, the planned apartment development at Northbrook Court, with 315 units, would have been required to have 63 affordable units under the Highland Park rules. The Anets Woods subdivision, with 32 single family homes priced at over $1 million, would need to have six affordable units. Developers find it challenging to achieve a workable mix, especially in the single family home subdivisions. Highland Park’s ordinance gives developers some options, including the ability to pay a fee in lieu of to the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund or build affordable units off-site.

Village President Sandy Frum focused the initial discussion on the Board’s goals for enacting an affordable housing policy. Trustee Johannah Hebl stated her concern for longtime residents who find themselves in economic hardship and unable to stay within the community. Trustees Muriel Collison and Heather Ross envisioned a variety of housing options making the community accessible, especially to people who work in the Village. Trustee Robert Israel noted the overall aging of Northbrook’s population, and hoped an affordable housing plan would bring an infusion of young families. The Trustees generally agreed with a threshold income level for qualifying applicants at 120% of area median household income.

President Frum noted that the meeting was only the opening of discussions on the topic, and that later sessions would address the variety of tools available to increase affordable housing opportunities. Strategies fall broadly into zoning relief (such as density allowances, accessory homes, and reduced parking requirements) and financial approaches (like permit fee waivers, employer subsidies, or purchasing affordable homes by the Village using a municipally-maintained fund), giving the Village flexibility to meet its goals.

“A cookie cutter approach doesn’t work with affordable housing,” noted Poupard. “You have to apply creativity.”

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