Naperville council: 20% affordable housing goal for 5th Avenue development
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
That's the advice Naperville senior task force member Jim Hill offered to the city council Wednesday amid a debate on whether to set affordable housing guidelines for a development being considered along 5th Avenue.
The need for more affordable homes is imminent, city officials said, not only to meet a state mandate, but to better serve seniors, young professionals and other demographics that can't afford a majority of Naperville's existing housing stock.
Several residents and council members stressed that the city-owned land near the Metra station offers a "unique opportunity" to start filling that gap.
"I think that this is the first bite of the elephant," Councilwoman Rebecca Boyd-Obarski said. "This is the first step in 5th Avenue: setting some parameters. If we don't start to finally make some decisions, we're never going to see what we possibly could be building."
Without a formal redevelopment proposal on the table, some council members said they aren't ready to commit to mandating a specific percentage of units meet the state's definition of "affordable." But they did unanimously agree to set a goal of at least 20 percent, following a recommendation from the housing advisory commission.
Preliminary plans for the 5th Avenue development, submitted by developer Ryan Companies, call for nearly 400 apartments, roughly 40 condos and a dozen or so brownstones. Other features could include about 1,200 new parking stalls and a mix of office, retail and flexible spaces.
If 20 percent of those residential units are affordable, the housing advisory commission says, the city would make progress toward complying with a state law requiring 10 percent of a municipality's housing stock be affordable. Naperville falls short at 7.5 percent, with about 3,800 homes defined as affordable out of roughly 50,000.
The city is required to submit a report to the Illinois Housing Development Authority by June 2020 that outlines a plan for increasing that number.
Ideally, various types of affordable residences would be spread throughout the city, Councilwoman Judith Brodhead said. But she believes a higher concentration makes sense at 5th Avenue, given its proximity to public transportation, the downtown and city resources.
Because the city owns the site, Boyd-Obarski said, officials have the opportunity to "make a statement" by setting guidelines for potential developers. She and Brodhead, along with Hill, sit on a steering committee created to guide plans for 5th Avenue.
While they agreed affordable housing should be a priority, Mayor Steve Chirico and a handful of council members said it's premature to assign a number to the project without knowing specific costs, building size and other factors.
"At some point, this is going to be a math problem," Chirico said. "I'm not prepared to do that. I think we've got the cart way in front of the horse right now."
With so many moving parts, Councilman Paul Hinterlong said setting a 20-percent requirement would be like "throwing a dart at a target and hoping it'll work." He suggested holding a workshop with all parties involved to work out the details.
Naperville resident Anne Schultz, a member of the DuPage Homeless Alliance, said the city already has conducted analyses and requested additional affordable housing data. She was among several community members who urged the city council Wednesday to adopt the housing advisory commission's recommendation for 5th Avenue.
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.
"Now is the time to begin a conversation addressing Naperville's lack of affordable housing," Schultz said. "It is an opportunity to demonstrate how seamlessly modern, affordable housing can blend in with market-priced housing."
With three children in college, longtime resident Vickie Oriekose said she was looking to downsize within her community but struggled to find a new home that she could afford. Creating such housing could benefit residents in similar positions, she said.
In a voice vote, the council agreed to set a goal for the inclusion of 20 percent affordable housing, which Councilman Benny White said gives potential developers direction to start the process. "Let's see where we land," he said.
The city is expected to hire a consultant this year to complete a full housing analysis, staff members said. Chirico also requested additional information about other housing options that could diversify Naperville's stock.
Councilwoman Becky Anderson said she'd like to explore creating an ordinance that would require a 10-percent affordable component in all new residential developments. Similar measures have been adopted in towns such as St. Charles and Oak Park.