September 12 2013

Exclusivity at Any Expense: The Lack of Affordable Housing on Chicago’s North Shore

The Village of Winnetka has taken a hostile stance toward affordable housing expansion

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

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?

Credits: Images and data linked to source.

Andrew Kinaci

After graduating from Princeton University with an A.B. in Architecture and a Certificate in Urban Studies, Andrew Kinaci set out to the Midwest to break out of the insular world of academia, and into the direct service of non-profit work. After a year working on Chicago’s West Side with a social enterprise specializing in re-entry employment training for ex-felons, Andrew now works for an organization conducting energy audits of multi-family affordable housing buildings. He will be blogging about the many ways Chicago is seeking a more sustainable and equitable urban future.

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 12th, 2013 at 9:05 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Social/Demographics, Urban Development/Real Estate. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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One Response to “Exclusivity at Any Expense: The Lack of Affordable Housing on Chicago’s North Shore”

  1. Robert Poole Says:

    Great article Andrew!

    San Francisco has an inclusionary ordinance. Developers have three options for contributing to affordable housing:
    1) 12% on site of the main project
    2) 16% off site of the main project (which is way trickier because you have to have two lots and build both at the same time, so almost nobody takes this option)
    3) pay an in-lieu fee equivalent to that 16%, which goes into a giant pot that Mayor’s Office of Housing uses to spend on affordable housing (about 60% go with this option)

    But in a city like SF, where the economy is booming and housing values are appreciating like no other, a lot of those affordable units aren’t what most in the country would consider affordable.

    Did Becka Hurley elaborate on what the conversation is really about, aside from being rich and snobby?

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