How Naperville council candidates think the city should tackle affordable housing
Acknowledging the importance and complexity of increasing Naperville's affordable housing stock, the 11 candidates running for city council have varying ideas for achieving what has been a long-standing community goal.
While some council hopefuls support exploring the adoption of an inclusionary zoning ordinance -- a policy that would set affordable housing requirements for residential developers -- other concepts floated during Daily Herald endorsement interviews ranged from development incentives to the preservation of existing housing units.
John Krummen and Benny White are seeking to retain two of the four open seats. Their challengers in the April 6 election are Jennifer Bruzan Taylor, Vasavi Chakka, Lucy Chang Evans, Jim Haselhorst, Ian Holzhauer, Paul Leong, Allison Longenbaugh, Vincent Ory and Mark Urda.
Sitting council members in January approved an Affordable Housing Work Plan containing a series of action items recommended by what is now called the Human Rights and Fair Housing Commission. Built into the measure was direction for staff members to begin work on an inclusionary zoning ordinance, which White says includes researching the successes and failures of similar measures adopted by comparable cities "so we don't repeat the same mistakes."
Another early step in the process, he said, should entail defining and setting standards for affordable and attainable housing as it pertains to Naperville's needs and property values.
With an estimated 7.5% of its housing stock qualifying as affordable in 2019, Naperville falls short of a 10% state mandate. Balance is the key to bridging that gap, said Chakka, a small-business owner and Sister Cities Commission member. As the city continues attracting families from all walks of life, she said, officials need to ensure additional rooftops don't burden existing infrastructure and schools.
Incorporating affordable housing into developments with a mix of uses -- such as retail, office and residential -- is one possible solution, said Chang Evans, a civil engineer and former Secret Service agent. Having lived with her family in an affordable home, she said, she wants to make sure residents can stay within the community even if their income levels or marital status change.
Just as young professionals and new families should be able to find a home at a realistic price, Krummen said, empty nesters and seniors also should be able to downsize both in square footage and budget. During his last few years on the council, he says, he has held town halls, talked with experts and pushed for Naperville to develop a "portfolio of solutions" for their growing housing needs.
Ory, who was among the group that formed the city's historic district, criticized the council's approach to increasing affordable housing so far, saying elected officials have been more devoted to high-end, high-density development. Having been in the real estate business, he said it's the council's responsibility to seek public input and explore the various properties that might be suitable for such use.
A historic preservation commissioner, Urda said he believes Naperville needs to focus on maintaining naturally occurring affordable housing -- a concept also listed in the city's work plan -- rather than razing existing properties and rebuilding larger, more expensive homes. He said he also supports incorporating affordable housing into a future development along 5th Avenue and other similar projects.
As Naperville faces limited land availability and other constraints, affordable housing will be an important consideration as city officials discuss updates to its master plan, said Longenbaugh, a community advocate and operations analyst at J.P. Morgan. Requiring a percentage of new construction and redevelopment to be set aside for affordable housing is one potential option.
Plenty of communities nationwide have enacted effective inclusionary zoning measures, from which Naperville could adopt the best practices, said Holzhauer, an attorney and chairman of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce board. But that can't be the city's only strategy, he said.
One idea is mitigating the red tape for "accessory dwelling units," he said, where a homeowner's aging parents or children with disabilities could live in an independent setting on the same property.
In the "very complicated" process of creating affordable housing regulations, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for Naperville, said Leong, a Naperville Unit District 203 board member. He urged the city to "engage all stakeholders as soon as possible" so residents don't feel blindsided by potential changes or new developments.
Bruzan Taylor, a former Cook County assistant state's attorney, said she agrees with many of the city's proposed action items, as long as the efforts to diversify its housing stock don't discourage development. She suggested reducing permit and impact fees and accelerating the review process to incentivize developers whose plans include attainable housing.
To avoid segregation and encourage diversity, U.S. Navy Reserve retiree Haselhorst stressed that affordable units and properties need to be spread throughout the community. Naperville's greatest challenge is the high cost of land, he said. But he believes city officials can confer with organizations like Habitat for Humanity to develop effective strategies.