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New Cook County Housing Authority Proposal Targets the 'Missing Middle'

Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Evanston RoundTable
by Bob Seidenberg

New Cook County Housing Authority Proposal Targets the 'Missing Middle'
Image from Housing Authority of Cook County
Image from Housing Authority of Cook County
By Bob Seidenberg

Officials at the Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC) as well as the City of Evanston see the need to create more affordable housing for the “missing middle” – a term referring to individuals with middle incomes who are not eligible for subsidies but who also cannot afford market-rate rents in the area.

HACC officials believe they can achieve that goal with a building they have proposed just south of their 11-story Jane Perlman Apartments at 1900 Sherman Ave., but it will take a sizeable increase in building height to achieve it.

At the April 29 special City Council meeting, HACC Executive Director Richard Monocchio and his team walked Council members through the agency’s updated plan for the 120-unit building, which calls for an increase in height from 11 to 15 stories.

The building, which would be open to people 55 years old and older, will receive little in the way of subsidies to pay for the project, because of the inclusion of middle-income and market-rate rents, along with the very low, HACC officials said.

“So we’re going to have to do it with conventional financing and creating some higher-rent market units to help subsidize the affordable,” Mr. Monocchio said.

Along with that, officials are going to have to build higher. “We need more units to help the cash flow to create the missing middle and, really, to make the project financially feasible,” he said.

HACC’s proposal targets three income groups – people with incomes at 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) or less, referred to as “low-mod”; those with between 80% and 120% of AMI, the “missing middle”; and persons with incomes above 120% AMI, referred to as in the “market-rate” category.

HACC officials peg average rents for the one-bedroom units at $2,000 a month for full market-rate units; $1,666 for the missing middle units, and $1,450 for the low-mod units.

Those in the low-mod units, though, using their housing vouchers (formerly called Section 8 vouchers), would end up paying only a third of the $1,450 rent, officials say.

In all, officials are looking at a breakdown of 36 market-rate units, 60 missing-middle and 24 low-mod units.

Officials said in their presentation that economies of scale is a factor, with the more units built, the lower the cost.

“So if we were to build 80 units, our cost per unit would be higher, our overall costs in relation to the income we’re getting from the units would be higher, and, frankly, provide fewer affordable units,” Bill James, a principal at Camiros, Ltd., told Council members.

Officials were initially thinking of building an above-ground structure for parking, which is less expensive than below-ground, he said. He said that was not feasible, however, because of the space needed for yards and the building’s small footprint.

Below-ground parking would allow yards “that we want and the community wants, and we just have to bite the bullet on the cost,” he said.

Additional height is needed, though, “to kind of make all these things work,” he said.

One of the unique aspects of the HACC proposal is the attempt to address housing for those in the middle-income level, Sarah Flax, the City’s housing and grants manager, told City Council members, “with everything right now being built at the high end, as we know, or the deeply subsidized low end.

“And one of the things we hear is we have many seniors who don't want to move out of their houses and aren't finding what they are looking for in Evanston right now, but are interested in senior housing,” Ms. Flax said.

The HACC building is open to those 55 years and older, she noted, so “these are independent living units, and with an appealing location immediately north of our downtown in a beautiful area, I think we’re going to get people who are going to say, ‘Oh, hey, I found a place I want to move to’ and who don’t qualify for any of the subsidized housing out there. They’re that middle income [and] that’s something we know: Nationwide, people are struggling everywhere to find middle-income housing.

“And if we can open up some of our single-family homes, then we’ll be able to potentially have more space for families moving in, things like that, which we also know we’re short of right now. It’s really trying to open to a range of housing that simply doesn’t exist right now.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, in whose First Ward the project is located, asked Mr. Monocchio and his team members about residents’ reaction to the proposal.

On the project, officials will be justifying their plan “to residents who want affordable housing but who are also concerned about the height of the building,” she said.

Mr. Monocchio said earlier that officials have met with very positive feedback to their plan from residents in the area, including those at the Sherman Gardens Cooperative located nearby at 1856-66 Sherman Ave.

“Did we talk to Sherman Gardens about an 11-story proposal? … Did we mention anything higher?” pressed Ald. Fiske.

Mr. Monocchio confirmed that the group had talked to the residents only about the earlier 11-story proposal.

“Then we have to go back to that too,” said Ald. Fiske.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, asked whether Evanston residents would receive preference on a wait-list developed for the project.

Mr. Monocchio said that while, by law, officials could not give local preference, the project could be marketed in such a way to let residents know in advance of when a list will be opened for the building.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said he was excited about the proposal. Judging by a couple of senior buildings going up in his ward, he said, “what you’re charging for an apartment building that is just walking distance from the lake … you’d have to be crazy to be concerned about that rent based on what is being offered around town.”

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