Panel: Naperville's 5th Ave. development should have 20% affordable housing

Redevelopment being considered near the Naperville Metra station along 5th Avenue could contain nearly 500 housing units, and one panel is recommending 20 percent of them meet the state definition of "affordable."

The housing advisory commission says the inclusion of a minimum of 20 percent affordable homes could help the city make progress toward complying with a state law requiring 10 percent of housing in each municipality to count as affordable. Naperville includes 3,800 homes defined as affordable out of its stock of roughly 50,000, meaning the city provides 7.5 percent affordable and falls short of the mandate.

Housing advisory commission members and some members of a steering committee formed to guide plans for 5th Avenue say the 13-acre zone offers the perfect opportunity to boost the count.

"Here's our chance," said Becky Anderson, a city council member and liaison to the housing advisory commission. "We own this land, so let's make the most of it and ... make sure that we include some more affordable housing."

The city is required to provide a report by the end of June 2020 to the Illinois Housing Development Authority listing the number of units needed to comply with the 10 percent minimum and identifying sites or incentives to help reach the goal. In a position paper, the housing advisory commission said the city failed to submit such a report by the last deadline in 2015.

Mayor Steve Chirico said it's best to use multiple sites - not only 5th Avenue - to work toward the requirement.

"When it comes to affordable housing, we can't try to do it all at once in one spot. It's best to mix these types of spaces and units among all housing," Chirico said. "Twenty percent, to me, sounds like it's unrealistic."

Including that proportion of affordable housing would be "very difficult to achieve from a financial viability standpoint," he said.

Mayoral candidate Richard "Rocky" Caylor, however, said incorporating 20 percent affordable units into plans for 5th Avenue sites could help take a step toward 10 percent.

"It would be an opportune place for attainable and affordable housing," Caylor said. "It does offer an excellent opportunity for the city to demonstrate a commitment to a diverse housing stock."

Caylor said there are "economic and social benefits" to providing attainable or affordable options throughout the city, so he hopes the housing advisory commission's recommendation can be incorporated as part of an upcoming update to the comprehensive land use plan.

What's affordable?

The Illinois Housing Development Authority defines affordable housing in a two-step process using the area's median household income.

First, it says the type of occupant used to set the affordable definition is a person or family making 60 percent of the area median household income, adjusted for family size. Then, it takes the amount of money earned at 60 percent of area median household income and says the rent must be no more than 30 percent of that amount.

So if a family making 60 percent of the area median household income has to pay no more than 30 percent of its income toward rent to live in a certain place, that place is defined as affordable.

But city officials say the definition to be used in 5th Avenue redevelopment could be open for discussion.

Anderson said the city should stick with the state definition instead of using another term to ensure progress toward compliance.

"Attainable is not a word we should be using. I think affordable is what we need," Anderson said. "We need to keep it within what the Illinois Housing (Development) Authority is telling us to do."

Chirico said it's important to create homes for people of various ages and occupations.

"We should make sure it includes a percentage of entry-level workforce housing," Chirico said.

Mixed opinions

Dan Zeman, who lives in the Park Addition subdivision one block north of 5th Avenue, said he originally was skeptical of affordable housing on the sites slated for redevelopment. But once he researched the topic, he decided "maybe I was just being a NIMBY," and thinking "not in my backyard."

"I'm a liberal. I'm a progressive. Affordable housing being in a community where every part of the socioeconomic spectrum is represented and welcomed, that's one of my core values," Zeman said. "I think that affordable housing should definitely be a piece of it."

Others say it's too soon to define what should be included, especially as the city awaits recommendations on two key considerations: whether the DuPage Children's Museum should stay or move to free up its land; and whether the city should add more commuter parking than the 1,681 spaces already there.

"We're still kind of at square one," said Thom Higgins, a steering committee member. "I think, personally, it's an open question of, 'Are we going to have housing there?'"

Preliminary plans from two designs by Ryan Companies, the city's chosen developer, call for nearly 400 apartments, roughly 40 condos and a dozen or so brownstones, along with 1,200 new parking spaces, and various amounts of office, retail and flexible space.

Supporters of affordable housing say it should be interspersed among all parts of the development instead of confined to one building.

Bob Buckman, a steering committee member and former president of the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation, said the city can't allow its affordable housing percentage to linger below the state requirement. He called it a "noble and excellent recommendation" to include 20 percent affordable units in 5th Avenue plans.

"The heart of Naperville is a giving town," he said. "This is one way that the city can face up to the challenge of having affordable housing."

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