Park Ridge City Council approves affordable housing plan

After months of discussing how to increase the supply of affordable housing in Park Ridge to comply with state law, the Park Ridge City Council on March 20 approved an affordable housing plan that offers incentives, rather than requirements, for developers to provide a certain number of affordable units.

As residents provided feedback to Park Ridge City Council members over the past few months, some expressed concerns that the city’s plan to bring in more affordable housing units would be more aspirational than practical. Others cautioned that forcing developers to build affordable units into their projects could be onerous for them, from a business perspective.

Before the City Council voted to approve the plan, First Ward Alderman John Moran asked Community Development Director Drew Awsumb what the plan would change in Park Ridge once it is enacted.

“What has changed in Park Ridge by doing this? Have we taken any actual action to move the needle? Because I see a lot of ‘We’re going to consider, we’re going to evaluate.’ Does anything in this document change — or is this business as usual the way it’s been the past 10-15-30 years?”

Awsumb said adopting the plan doesn’t immediately require any changes, but that the city would try to implement its strategies. By adopting the plan, Park Ridge now complies with the Illinois Housing Department Authority until 2029, and that governmental agency will go through the process of figuring out which municipalities in the state follow the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act, he indicated. The Illinois Housing Department Authority would then decide if the city is following through with its plan in a meaningful way.

Affordable housing units, as defined by the Illinois Housing Development Authority, are units with prices affordable to homebuyers earning 80% of the regional median household income, and renters earning 60% of regional median income.

To raise the number of affordable housing units in the city to comply with the state’s Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act of 2003, the city would need to convert 280 existing dwellings into affordable units or create at least 315 new affordable units.

To meet that goal, the plan suggested the city implement the following strategies:

  • Establishing demolition and developer fees to fund affordable housing programs and other historic preservation and sustainability goals.

  • Consider creating a first-time homebuyer assistance program marketed towards public service employees such as police, fire, teachers and health care workers.

  • Consider creating homeowner assistance programs marketed toward senior citizens on fixed incomes who wish to “age in place” and remain in their homes and in Park Ridge.

  • Examine and evaluate the potential to create a developer-driven, voluntary inclusionary housing program by offering zoning incentives to private developers to create affordable housing units.

  • Review the city’s existing Planned Unit Development ordinance and related zoning code provisions to enhance the viability of affordable housing projects in the private real estate marketplace.

  • Market Park Ridge to actively recruit senior apartment building developers to invest in Park Ridge.

  • Assess the existing affordable housing units along Touhy Avenue, Northwest Highway and Busse Highway. The zoning requirements for these areas could be revised to promote and encourage the preservation of the existing housing and decrease the opportunity to replace affordable housing with larger dwellings that exploit liberal bulk regulations.

Some residents in Park Ridge had organized to ask for the city to include a mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinance, which would require developers to include a percentage of their new developments in Park Ridge as affordable, but several members of the City Council said that creating such an inclusionary zoning ordinance would deter developers from coming into Park Ridge.

Tyler Hague, executive vice president of the National Multifamily Advisory at Colliers International Group, who was not part of the Park Ridge discussions on affordable housing but offered his expertise in an interview with Pioneer Press, said forcing developers to create affordable housing units where they didn’t plan on building could complicate things financially for them. He said that if given incentives, developers might be attracted to build those affordable housing units.

Hague said he considered Park Ridge’s plan as “good first steps” for the city to reach its affordable housing goal, but said that what will ultimately help Park Ridge would be to increase housing density in the city. “This is a simple supply and demand problem,” he said, “There’s just simply more demand than there is supply in all of these places, so if you build more supply there’s going to be theoretically less demand.”

Hague said the city can do more to support developers who will want to build more dense housing, in part by educating residents about its goals.

“I think a lot of (cities) let their public have too much of an opinion on projects that should get built. What happens is the projects that could have gotten built in two years take five years to get built….if a municipality can fast track permitting, and development approvals, they can get the housing built quicker and more efficiently done so that the costs are lower.”

“It’s always the same couple of arguments, it’s too tall, it’s too dense, there’s going to be transient people living there and traffic’s going to be bad,” said Hague. “You could be in the middle of Iowa or in the middle of Park Ridge and and it’s the same thing that people are griping about.”

Hague said he liked that the plan will retain its current affordable housing units and said that Park Ridge does offer amenities that other cities don’t. “Park Ridge exhibits everything a developer would ever want for a downtown. They’ve got a great neighborhood, they’ve got restaurants bars, — it’s a quaint, vibrant downtown area with a train station… it checks all the boxes.”

When asked why developers aren’t coming in with as many plans for Park Ridge as they have for Skokie and Niles, Hague said it is possible that developers have had bad experiences in the past and that there aren’t enough sizable parcels of land to develop on.