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Batavia nears threshold requiring mandatory affordable housing plan

Aldermen opt to let market decide

The Windmill Manor senior apartments complex is under construction at 2400 Hawks Drive, west of Randall Road in Batavia. The 80-unit building will include 72 income-restricted apartments. Residents are expected to begin moving in early next year.
The Windmill Manor senior apartments complex is under construction at 2400 Hawks Drive, west of Randall Road in Batavia. The 80-unit building will include 72 income-restricted apartments. Residents are expected to begin moving in early next year.

BATAVIA – Even as the debate rages over the proposal for income-restricted apartments at the Campana building, a similar project already is taking shape in Batavia.

Construction is well underway on the Windmill Manor complex at 2400 Hawks Drive, west of Randall Road, and residents are expected to start moving in early next year.

Like the Campana project, Windmill Manor will have 80 apartments. An even higher number of these – 72 compared with 64 at Campana – will be rent-restricted units, for which the developer will receive a tax credit from the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

There are, of course, several key differences. Windmill Manor is an entirely new building at a location that is tucked away off the beaten path. Moreover, Windmill Manor is not only income-restricted, but age-restricted as well, reserved for tenants who are at least 55 years old.

From a municipal policy standpoint, Windmill Manor, and, if approved, the Campana project, represent significant market-based answers to a very real problem confronting the city of Batavia.

State statute requires that at least 10 percent of the housing stock in Illinois municipalities be affordable. Right now, Batavia’s affordable housing score sits at 11.4 percent, Batavia Community Development Director Scott Buening said.

Under current guidelines, affordable housing is defined as monthly rent of no more than $915, or a home valued at no more than $142,738, Buening said.

When the level of affordable housing in a community falls below the 10 percent threshold, the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act requires the local government to formulate and implement an affordable housing plan designed to push the level back above 10 percent.

The plan can include incentives for builders, development fees for an affordable housing fund or other mechanisms.

The problem is that most new home construction in Batavia is in the luxury bracket, such as the Barkei Farms subdivision on the southeast side and the Tanglewood subdivision west of Randall Road.

Furthermore, rehabilitation projects and teardowns have pushed many existing homes in Batavia out of the affordable category, Buening said.

When the affordable housing law was enacted in 2004, Batavia’s score is believed to have been closer to 15 percent, Buening said, and the percentage of affordable housing in the community likely has continued to decline.

Every few years, the Illinois Housing Development Authority calculates the level of affordable housing in each municipality, and the last time this happened was in 2013, Buening said.

“So, we will see a new table sometime in the next few years, and it may be that we are under that 10 percent threshold already,” Buening wrote in an email to the Kane County Chronicle.

Six months ago, Batavia city aldermen engaged in a lengthy discussion about whether to implement an affordable housing plan. They decided to wait, and directed Buening to bring the issue back before them in half a year.

A few weeks ago, Buening brought the question back. Without taking a formal vote, aldermen again decided to wait and see what the market produces.

Right now, the market is producing affordable housing at Windmill Manor and potentially at the Campana building. Between the two projects, that would translate into 136 affordable units, Buening said.

Based on the 10 percent requirement, Buening said, the city could approve nine, higher-cost housing units for every affordable unit, essentially giving the city “credit” for 1,224 homes that do not fall into the affordable category.

The former Siemens factory site on the west side of the city, which is now undergoing an environmental cleanup, also may represent an opportunity for the city to add to its affordable housing stock.

“It could be,” Buening wrote in response to that possibility. “However, a developer has to be able to build it. That often requires tax credits, grants or other incentives to make the acquisition and construction costs work. They typically also want higher density to keep infrastructure costs lower.”

For now, Windmill Manor is the one major addition to the city’s affordable housing stock that can be counted on.

When it was approved last fall, developer Chris Tritsis of JNB Batavia said the income limit for residents of the rent-restricted apartments would be $37,000, and that the apartments would remain rent- and age-restricted for 30 years. A one-bedroom unit would rent for $800 a month, he said at the time.

The three-story building sits on a 4.5-acre site on the south side of a curving section of Hawks Drive just west of the Walmart store.

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