Skokie Village Board passes affordable housing ordinance

After 18 months of debating and four attempts, the Skokie Village Board approved an affordable housing ordinance aimed at creating more affordable housing units for low- and moderate-income earners as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The ordinance passed on a 4-3 vote at the May 6 Board of Trustees meeting. It stirred considerable debate among affordable housing supporters, who were concerned that it did not do enough to provide affordable housing, and developers, who were concerned that it would impose impossible-to-meet limits and actually reduce the number of affordable housing units.

“The last time we had an affordable act proposal it was voted down 4-3, one vote” said Mayor George Van Dusen prior to the vote. “What you’re seeing is the sausage being made, as they say… You need one vote to pass something, and whatever it takes, something is better than nothing… don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”

The ordinance passed by the Board requires developers to include affordable housing units for their developments or pay the village a fee-in-lieu that will go towards the village’s affordable housing fund, much like previous attempts. It also includes a provision that would allow the village board to eliminate the option, on a case-by-case basis, of paying a fee. Units created under the ordinance will have to follow it for 25 years.

HUD defines individuals who earn less than 80 percent of their area’s median income as low- and moderate-income earners. The proposed ordinance requires developers to include housing units in their plans affordable to someone earning between 60% and 80% of the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin area median income as defined by HUD and adjusted for household size.

Households with two people earning between 60% and 80% of the area’s median income would earn between $54,000 and $72,000. A family of four would need to earn between $63,000 and $90,000 to be in the same bracket. According to the ordinance, housing expenses should not be more than 31% of household income. All developments would need to provide half of those affordable housing units to applicants who earn less than 60% of the area median income and the other half to applicants who do not earn more than 80% of the area median income.

The proposed ordinance also limits how many people can live in affordable housing units, depending on the number of bedrooms. A studio can only house one person, a one-bedroom unit can house two people, a two-bedroom unit can house three people, a three-bedroom unit can house four people, and a four-bedroom unit can house seven people.

The number of affordable housing units per development would work on a tier list as follows:

  • For projects with 11 to 75 total dwelling units, 5% shall be marketed, offered and maintained as affordable housing units.

  • For projects between 76 and 150 total dwelling units, 5% shall be marketed, offered and maintained as affordable housing units. If the development receives any tax increment financing, Cook County real estate tax program relief or local government real estate tax relief, 7% of the dwelling units shall be marketed, offered and maintained as affordable housing units.

  • For projects with more than 150 total dwelling units, 7% of the dwelling units shall be marketed, offered and maintained as affordable housing units. If the development receives any tax increment financing, Cook County real estate tax program relief or local government real estate tax relief, 10% of the dwelling units shall be marketed, offered and maintained as affordable housing units.

A developer may make a cash payment in lieu of creating some or all of the required affordable housing units, but only if the mayor and Board of Trustees approve the payment as part of a site plan approval or a planned unit development, according to the ordinance. The fee would be $100,000 per affordable housing unit in a development between 11 and 150 housing units. Development with more than 150 housing units would need to pay $150,000 per unit, per the ordinance.

The fee in lieu would fund the village’s Affordable Housing Renovation Grant Program. The program would encourage renovations to older rental properties consisting of two to four units that have not been recently improved, according to the ordinance. The grant would be administered by the village manager or a designee.

Trustees Keith Robinson, Khem Khoeun, Edie Sue Sutker and Van Dusen voted in support of the ordinance. Trustees Ralph Klein, Alison Pure Slovin and James Johnson voted against it. Before the board cast its vote, residents gave public comment with some supporting the ordinance and some opposing it.

In a written public comment to the board, Resident Emi Yamauchi said the ordinance is a “major disappointment and a sham.” She also criticized the renovation grant, saying, “Shouldn’t the village be citing and fining these landlords, instead of subsidizing their private investments with monies that could be better used elsewhere?”

Resident Jerome Brozek criticized the ordinance because it would create affordable units in otherwise luxury apartments, calling it “pure Marxism for all” and that “there is nothing inequitable about Skokie.”

Before the meeting started, Skokie Neighbors for Housing Justice held a rally outside of village hall opposing the ordinance because it does not require the village to give zoning exceptions, does not provide affordable housing options for people who earn less than $47,000 a year and gives developers an option to buy their way out of creating affordable options, among other issues the group had with the ordinance.

At the rally, activist and founder of the group Skokie Neighbors for Housing Justice Gail Schechter referenced a study done by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning that said that 9.6% of people who work in Skokie live in the village. “That’s pretty unbelievable… They don’t have an opportunity to live here,” she said.

“The village is offering nothing,” Schechter said. “I mean every inclusionary housing ordinance I know of, and there are hundreds around the country, allow for developers to maybe add an extra set of units (and other exceptions to the zoning code.)”

At the meeting, Corporation Counsel Michael Lorge said that the ordinance includes exceptions for parking requirements. He said the Planning Department “felt it was the main and most useful incentive to give without dealing with problems of density and height.”

Johnson also attended the rally, but did not speak publicly. A day after the ordinance passed, Johnson told Pioneer Press, “In my opinion, this is a disingenuous piece of legislation. It will do little, if anything, to create new affordable housing in Skokie, even though there is tremendous need.”

Johnson also publicly opposed the third attempt at an affordable housing ordinance in Skokie, also citing the ordinance’s option for developers to pay a fee in lieu of providing affordable housing units. He did however, ultimately vote in support of the ordinance then, saying, “we need to get something on the books… a weak ordinance is better than no ordinance.”

At the April 15 Board meeting when the ordinance was introduced, Van Dusen said that the only thing that will help municipalities in bringing in more affordable housing would be providing massive subsidies to developers. He cited Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson approving millions of dollars in tax increment financing for developers to flip four office space buildings to more than 1,000 apartments on LaSalle Street, 30 percent of which would be marketed as affordable housing units. “That is what produces affordable housing. Affordable housing is not profitable for developers. We’ve gotta get that through our heads,” said Van Dusen.

Trustee Alison Pure Slovin said she supported the renovation grant program because it would give the board the ability to renovate housing in the village, but didn’t support the part of the ordinance that would require developers to include affordable housing units in their developments.

“There are places and buildings in the village that are subpar and people aren’t living to the standards that we would like our residents to live in. I believe the owners can’t afford to fix them up to the quality that they need to be,” she said.

In a reversal from her no vote on the previous ordinance to a yes vote on the approved ordinance, Khoeun said the ordinance is only the beginning of the work the village will do to bring in affordable housing.

“We’re arguing about something just to figure out where we can find common ground to start,” she said. “We will continue from there and figure out how this falls into a broader strategy for our community, and it’s going to take time. It’s going to take time for us to continue to track data that will inform us and help us decide which way the policy should lean towards. But this is a start.”