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St. Charles officials discuss affordable housing rules

ST. CHARLES – The way St. Charles ensures its affordable housing stock is above the state’s 10 percent threshold might change.

Monday, the Planning and Development Committee met with the St. Charles Housing Commission to discuss the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, which requires developers to make a percentage of their units affordable and/or provide a fee-in-lieu contribution to the Housing Trust Fund.

Developers, however, have been requesting deviations from the requirements.

Most recently, Corporate Reserve – a proposed apartment complex in western St. Charles – offered a $1.3 million fee-in-lieu contribution and no affordable housing on site. The ordinance requires affordable housing units and cash contributions, in this case $2.4 million.

Such variances – and the perception the City Council is making deals with developers – concern aldermen.

“That’s exactly why we’re here,” Planning and Development Committee Chairman Cliff Carrignan said, “to get away from the perception of a one-off.”

Noting the different contexts for the variances, Housing Commission Chairwoman Cindy Holler Larson said the ordinance needs more flexibility and suggested creating categories to address different situations.

“What about sliding scales?” Carrignan said.

The city could temper the requirements as the affordable housing stock increases, which it has – from about 12 percent in 2005 to about 18 percent today, Carrignan said. The scale could be set to encourage affordable housing units over cash contributions.

“The fee-in-lieu is not what we’re after,” he said. “We need units.”

Although only the single-family rehabilitation program uses the Housing Trust Fund, the fund can be used in other ways such as subsidizing building costs and offering low-interest loans, Larson said.

She also noted the ordinance has a public relations problem because some people equate “affordable housing” with public housing projects.

“There’s a lot of teaching to do,” Larson said.

Carrignan ended the meeting by listing three points in need of further consideration – the sliding scale, the handling of high-end market homes in the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance and options for the Housing Trust Fund.

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