The Village of Winnetka has taken a hostile
stance towards the affordable housing expansion
In March of 2012, the affluent Chicago suburb of Winnetka, IL soundly defeated a referendum expanding affordable housing options in the village. The anti-affordable housing group Winnetka Home Owners Association (WHOA) had campaigned for a year to gather signatures to place the referendum on the ballot. Despite the efforts of the similarly well-acronymed opposition “Winnetka Is Neighborly” (WIN), the proposal to include 15% affordable units in any new multi-family development was defeated in a landslide, with three votes against for every one for expansion.
The Winnetka Plan Commission debating housing ordinances
Becky Hurley, who chaired the Winnetka Plan Commission, suggested that although the debate around affordable housing is all but done now, she would caution against an oversimplification of the issue:
“It’s a more nuanced conversation than ‘people in Winnetka are just rich and snobby,’” – Becky Hurley, Winnetka Plan Commission Chair (as quoted by the Chicago Tribune).
Certainly a lack of affordable housing is a contemporary struggle for communities all over the country. It would be simple to say this is just a case of a wealthy suburb keeping undesirable lower-income people from moving into their community. Indeed, across Chicago’s North Shore the need for affordable housing is growing, with more and more people spending more than 35% of their income on housing. The neighboring community of Wilmette has taken a less hostile stance, as it has a handful of senior housing facilities, along with a housing assistance program that distributes $40,000 a year in aid. Yet since the village enacted an affordable housing plan, no multifamily residences have been built.
The culmination of three years of acrimonious political struggle with Winnetka’s Plan Commission resulted only in a provision that made it easier for homeowners to rent out the nearly sixty coach houses in the village. As demographic and economic challenges present a clear need for more flexibility with affordable and mixed-income housing, planners will need to grapple with constituencies like these, who are eager to protect their property values.
How have other communities found ways to integrate affordable housing?
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