Editorial: Naperville's intriguing experiment with 'attainable' housing

  • Micro-unit rental apartments have been added to the plans for a $200 million mixed-use campus slated near Route 59 and I-88 in northwest Naperville.

    Micro-unit rental apartments have been added to the plans for a $200 million mixed-use campus slated near Route 59 and I-88 in northwest Naperville. Courtesy of Inter-Continental Real Estate and Development

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted5/28/2021 1:00 AM

The lack of affordable housing is a long-standing problem in the suburbs. Young people just starting their careers often can't afford a home in the town where they grew up. Meanwhile, some older empty nesters have to leave their communities to downsize.

Despite a state requirement that 10% of the housing stock in each municipality count as affordable, some cities and villages have little to offer. And the hot housing market in the suburbs right now is making the goal of affordable housing even more challenging.


Municipalities like Northbrook are trying to address the problem by passing affordable housing ordinances. Naperville is also considering that approach, but with specific ideas in mind both for how to make it work and for how to put it into action more quickly.

After years of discussing how to increase its affordable housing stock, the city is working to draft an inclusionary zoning ordinance. If the policy is approved, it would incorporate affordable housing requirements into plans for new residential development. But the proposed ordinance is not ready yet. So officials found an alternative way to get closer to their housing goals.

It happened last week when the Naperville City Council approved development plans for a $200 million mixed-use campus -- designed to blend residential, retail, dining, hospitality and entertainment components -- for a site near Route 59 and I-88.

After hearing from the city, the developer agreed to create 82 micro-unit apartments within two mixed-use residential buildings. At 431 square feet each, those rental apartments would be considered affordable by state standards -- $970 a month -- based on the current market rate, officials say.

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Of course, the project is not government-subsidized, and there are no guarantees to ensure the rent meets affordable housing requirements by the time the units are built.

Critics, meanwhile, argue that micro-unit apartments are not ideal affordable housing. They say the units are too small for families, and the rent rates could be too high for low-income individuals.

Still, adding micro-unit apartments is better than doing nothing. At the very least, these will be "attainable housing" for empty nesters and young professionals.

"Micro-units are a lot more affordable than some of the other housing products on the market right now," Councilman Ian Holzhauer told our Lauren Rohr. "We can help fill an area which is seriously deficient in Naperville."

Suburban communities won't solve their affordable housing problems any time soon. But perhaps micro-units could be part of the solution. When it comes to creating more housing for those who need it, any progress is worthwhile -- no matter how small.

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