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Local

Geneva aldermen discuss affordable housing – again

'Either we're serious about it or we're not'

GENEVA – Aldermen discussed how to advance a longtime goal to have more affordable housing in Geneva, ultimately deciding to ask staff to bring more concrete details forward on three methods municipalities encourage this type of housing diversity.

Aldermen discussed the issue for nearly three hours at a special Committee of the Whole meeting June 10, where staff sought direction on how to proceed.

Community Development Director David DeGroot refreshed aldermen on the history of the city's goals and discussions on encouraging more diversity in senior and workforce housing, dating back to 2003. It was variously included in its master and stragetic plans.

One way is to create incentives for developers to want to build affordable housing in Geneva, DeGroot said. Among the programs other cities have used property contributions, tax increment finance districts and demolition taxes.

Alex Finke, the Government Affairs Director for the Realtor Association of the Fox Valley, urged aldermen to bring developers to the table to start with an incentive-based program.

"Ask developers ... what they need to offset costs so they will actuallly build," Finke said. "Realtors want to be partners in this. ... If your goal is to increase affordable housing stock, there is a way to help with this that will work."

Ann Houghtaling, executive director of the Hope Fair Housing Center, said she lives in Batavia, which allows for accessory dewlling units to be built. Houghtaling said she is going to build an apartment above her garage, with an elevator, where her recently widowed mother can live.

"And if she's not there, I can rent it to a senior on a fixed income for an affordable rate," Houghtaling said.

Geneva resident Chuck Miles urged aldermen to move forward.

"We want housing that people who work in Geneva can afford to live in," Miles said. "I want people who work in our shops to live in Geneva. ... Either we're serious about it or we're not."

The Illinois Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act requires the city to have 10 percent of its housing considered affordable. Geneva is currently at 7.7%, DeGroot said.

The city needs an additional 181 units to meet that threshold of having 10 percent of its housing stock considered affordable, DeGroot said.

Among the criteria used to determine affordability in housing is that rent and utilities be no more than 30% of the gross annual income for the household of the size that may occupy a unit, DeGroot said.

The median value of an owner-occupied housing unit in Geneva is $315,500, DeGroot said.

This leaves many public employees – including police, teachers, firefighters, librarians, park district and county employees – unable to afford to live in the town where they work, DeGroot said.

First Ward Alderman Tara Burghart said the aldermen were having trouble envisioning how the incentives work.

"This is a complex nut to crack," Burghart said. "All of us are trying to do the right thing."

Mayor Kevin Burns said the aldermen will take up the issue again as soon as practical or by Aug. 26 at the latest.

Cookie Olson advised the aldermen to make it clear to the community that affordable housing does not mean what is known as Section 8 housing.

DeGroot's presentation to aldermen on affordable housing strategies will be available on the city's website, www.geneva.il.us.

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