False Race Claim in 2nd Ward Project Highlights City’s Environmental Injustice

Residents in Evanston’s second ward are demanding the City reconsider the location for a Permanent Supportive Housing Development after discovering the developer misrepresented the neighborhood’s racial demographics on its state funding application.

Housing Opportunities for Women (HOW) received almost $5M in state funding last September for the supportive housing project’s construction at 2215 Dempster/1305 Pitner, a historically African-American neighborhood in Evanston. On its application to secure the funding, HOW falsely responded to the application’s Environmental Justice question on the majority-minority make-up of the neighborhood, reporting that the development was not located in a predominantly minority neighborhood.

HOW contradicted its response in the question’s comments, reporting the development’s location in census tract 8096 had a 66.59 percent minority population, a drop from 72 percent in 2010.

Area’s census tract is 8096, block group 3

Narrowing in, the proposed development’s block group is comprised of 89 percent of minority residents, more than half of which are low- to moderate-income.

The organization was approved for the funding through the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), a state agency which requires funding applicants complete the Environmental Checklist. According to Illinois Statute, knowingly misrepresenting eligibility information in funding applications from state-funded or administered programs constitutes state benefits fraud. The Checklist was part of the documentation provided to the City for project approval.


Segregational Effects of Evanston’s Approach to Affordable Housing

JUMP TO: Environmental Justice in Economic Development | Remedies to Equity and Satisfying Our Affordable Housing Needs | Project Background

Expanding affordable housing choices is a keystone to Evanston’s Strategic Plan. A market study prepared for HOW underlined Evanston’s lack of quality affordable housing options, stating the city’s high market rents have resulted in housing instability for 4,884 Evanston households earning below 30 percent of the Area Median Income. It also identified an approximate 952 individuals currently unsheltered or in transitional or emergency housing.

Affordable housing units have historically been steered out of Evanston’s high-income, non-minority communities, and into the predominately minority communities of the 2nd and 5th Wards, a fact acknowledged in comments by both residents and Council members.

Second-ward residents opposing the project’s location said they’re concerned the concentration of affordable housing furthers racial and ethnic segregation, undermining integration and equity efforts. Evanston’s minority residents are 20% more likely than non-minority residents to rent homes, according to 2016 census data, and the HOW development is exclusively comprised of rental units.

Statistically, it’s income segregation—rather than racial segregation—at the center of discrepancies in community economic development.

Statistically, it’s income segregation—rather than racial segregation—at the center of discrepancies in community economic development. The links are merely an aftereffect of centuries of racist housing and lending practices, and their disparate effect on intergenerational wealth, upward mobility and access to social capital. Barriers to spatial mobility have been weaponized as barriers to upward mobility.

Barriers to spatial mobility have been weaponized as barriers to upward mobility.


Environmental Justice in Economic Development

Exclusionary zoning may be less explicitly discriminatory in its modern form, but it’s still readily apparent in government land-use decisions and their consequences to community environments and property values. Environmental justice and community economic development remain deeply interwoven, as highlighted in a white paper from Duke University’s School of Law.

Environmental justice concerns the way a government distributes the environmental, social and financial burdens of economic development vs. its advantages. The term originated as an extension of the Civil Rights Movement with the recognition of “environmental racism,” in which traditionally oppressed groups, predominately African Americans, were bearing greater environmental and social burdens while not receiving fair remunerations in return.

The term “Environmental Justice” was an extension of the Civil Rights Movement with the recognition that traditionally oppressed groups, predominately African Americans, were bearing greater environmental and social burdens while not receiving fair remunerations in return.

Disparities in justice are assessed by the locational allocation of projects disadvantageous to the surrounding area, in the form of property depreciation, increased traffic, noise pollution, etc. Issues are amplified when these projects come at the cost of economic development that offers lasting positive impact, such as green space or desired amenities. Examples of “not-in-my-backyard” development provided in the Duke paper may be easily recognizable to residents of Evanston’s 2nd and 5th Wards: waste disposal facilities, public utilities, and other property-depreciating projects.


Remedies to Equity and Satisfying Our Affordable Housing Needs

While basing a supportive housing project in a low- to low-middle-income area widens income divides between neighborhoods, locating it in a higher-income neighborhood exponentially increases affordable housing, by slowing housing price growth to surrounding area homes, and broadening Evanston’s affordability boundaries.

The equitable disbursement of public assets, services and access to social capital is directly correlated to the equitable disbursement of influential neighborhood stakeholders.

One of the only successful models for Evanston’s concurrent objectives to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing, support diversity and confront rising income inequality, is the HUD-recommended mixed income approach.

Mixed-income models do more than offer a variety of housing options, prices and rents, from market-rate to subsidized, within a neighborhood; they foster positive community dynamics. According to HUD, this requires deliberate strategies built into a City’s master plan and neighborhood revitalization projects.


Project Background

The HOW project was introduced to the public in April of 2017 as a 3-story, 16-unit multi-family dwelling, with 16 space parking lot. In September 2017, the (IHDA) approved funding of $4,850,000 to the Housing for the supportive housing project at 2215 Dempster. The same month, City Council denied group’s request for $550,000 gap financing for the development.

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