Study says Geneva should encourage affordable housing

When Geneva officials approve plans to build new housing, they should strive to make sure at least 15 percent of it is affordable for people who make less than the area's median household incomes.

That's one of the recommendations in the Geneva portion of the final draft of a Homes for a Changing Region housing study done by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

The city council reviewed the draft Monday and is expected to formally approve it Oct. 6.

The Geneva section will then be combined with reports for St. Charles, Batavia and North Aurora for the final report on housing in the Central Fox Valley subregion.

To prompt developers to build affordable housing, the city should consider offering incentives that could drive the unit cost down, such as letting them build taller buildings or requiring less parking, the study recommends.

The report also recommends Geneva implement a rental housing registry and inspection program, but notes that because Geneva does not have home-rule authority, it can't revoke rental licenses.

Geneva has a burden the other towns in the subregion don't: By the end of next summer, it has to tell the state how it intends to have at least 10 percent of its housing stock affordable to people who make only 80 percent of the metropolitan area median income (for homeownership) and 60 percent (for renting.) "Affordable," under state law, is that which costs no more than 30 percent of gross annual income, not including utilities.

The planning agency defines it differently by including utilities in the calculation.

Only 5.2 percent of Geneva's housing met the state's standard, according to a 2013 state report. If the city doesn't file a plan, a developer could appeal any denial of affordable housing developments to the state.

The planning agency's study recommends Geneva work toward the goal by pledging that, going forward, 15 percent of any new residential construction be devoted to affordable housing.

The study identified possible sites for such housing: North River Lane, where the former Geneva Bottling Works is; the former Geneva Greenhouse site on Western Avenue; 16 acres on Route 38 east of Kirk Road that once was slated for offices, stores and 270 apartments; and the southwest corner of Routes 38 and 25, including the former Mill Race Inn.

Alderman Chuck Brown questioned how the 15 percent would be determined. Would the 15 percent rule apply to the first project proposed after the state-mandated affordable housing plan is adopted, or would the percent be calculated over time?

"The problem is housing (development proposals) comes up in pieces," he said, and some developments may not be suited to both affordable and other housing.

The report can be found in the Sept. 22 committee of the whole packet on the city's website,

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