Daily Herald opinion: DuPage committee on affordable housing moves in the right direction

This editorial is a consensus opinion of the Daily Herald Editorial Board.

Affordable housing is an issue that continues to get some much-needed attention here in the suburbs.

On the heels of announcements about affordable and "attainable" housing projects in Libertyville and Naperville, DuPage leaders have formed a new ad hoc committee to explore ways of creating more affordable housing in the county.

The DuPage County Board also has set aside $2.5 million to start an affordable housing solutions program.

"Housing affordability is an issue of paramount interest that impacts many of our residents," said Deborah Conroy, county board chairwoman.

We applaud DuPage officials for acknowledging that fact and deciding to do something about it.

Affordable housing generally is defined as housing that costs a renter or homeowner no more than 30% of their monthly income.

Citing the U.S. Census, reporter Alicia Fabbre wrote that the median home price from 2017 to 2021 in DuPage was $324,900, and the median monthly rent was $1,433 for the same period.

Officials say that finding housing in the county that meets the definition of affordable can be difficult for several groups of residents, including first-time or first-generation homebuyers, essential workers, senior citizens wishing to downsize, and young adults who grew up in the county and want to raise their families in the county.

"While the people at the lowest end of the income scale need affordable housing the most, increasingly, we are seeing housing stress move up the income ladder because rents are moving up faster than incomes," said Kristin Faust, executive director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

Fabbre reported that part of the problem is that land is expensive. In addition, affordable housing developers often need a combination of public and private funding partners to finance their projects.

Faust says local governments must work with developers willing to take on the challenge and the risk of developing affordable housing. That includes making public land available and reducing the cost of bringing infrastructure to a site. It also involves creating a plan for affordable housing that can serve as a road map for developers.

The DuPage County Board's ad hoc committee is a great start. The panel will examine various topics, including the impact of county policies on development opportunities, the actions of past boards that attempted to increase the affordable housing supply and the availability of resources to address the needs.

By allocating $2.5 million to address housing needs, officials in DuPage are sending a clear message that they welcome affordable housing in unincorporated parts of the county. We hope it also encourages municipal leaders to take similar steps in their villages and cities. Then we'll see more progress in the right direction.

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