There appears to be some consensus between the St. Charles Housing Commission and the City Council Planning and Development Committee, which met earlier this week to discuss proposed revisions to the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance.
The topic is of interest to Geneva, not just because St. Charles shares a border and identity, but because there's a state mandate involved.
At issue is whether the ordinance is an effective tool in today’s economy. The city adopted the ordinance in 2008 to ensure it maintains control of a state mandate requiring communities to ensure that at least 10 percent of the housing stock is classified as affordable. In St. Charles, a little more than 18 percent of the housing stock is considered affordable. Communities that fail to meet the mandate face a potential state takeover of their planning and development efforts to ensure compliance.
But St. Charles put together its ordinance in 2006 and 2007, before the housing market crashed, said St. Charles Community Development Director Rita Tungare. When the ordinance was adopted in 2008, the Great Recession already had the nation in its grip.
The housing industry has yet to recover fully from the crash, just as the nation has been slow to recover from the recession. But the downturn effectively halted work at many housing developments, which had been planned when the jobless rate was much lower and the nation’s economic stability seemed more certain.
With the recession, however, home sales plummeted, as did home values. In the process, many developers either pulled back — if they survived the market’s collapse. At the same time, many homeowners have gone through foreclosures, adding another kink in the housing market.
Tungare said Wednesday afternoon that there does appear to be consensus between the St. Charles Housing Commission and the City Council Planning and Development Committee, which met early Monday to hash out some of the concerns over an ordinance some say lacks the flexibility developers need to succeed in a post-recession marketplace.
The ordinance gives developers the option of ensuring that a percentage of the housing units they build are considered affordable; that they instead pay a predetermined fee to the city’s Housing Trust Fund, which would be used to ensure affordable house continues to meet the state threshold; or a combination of the two.
The Housing Commission has been trying to allow developers some flexibility in meeting those obligations, and the city Community Development Department earlier this year offered some amendments to the inclusionary housing ordinance to set the process for allowing variances, or exceptions to the ordinance. It was when the City Council, as the Planning and Development Committee, was reviewing those changes that it asked to meet with the Housing Commission to get a better understanding of what was being proposed, Tungare said.
The variance, or exceptions that would be allowed under the changes, appears to be setting the requirements on a sliding scale — whether it is the percentage of units in a development that must be affordable, or the fee in lieu of that requirement which developers would pay.
Alderman Cliff Carrignan, 2nd Ward, who chairs the council’s Planning and Development Committee, said the city’s emphasis needs to be on the number of units — not building up the Housing Trust Fund. Carrignan endorsed the idea of some kind of sliding scale variances to the ordinance, but he also noted that in the past two years, the city has looked at three development plans, each of which sought to meet the inclusionary housing ordinance mandates, but each with different variances or exceptions. The City Council, he said, wants to ensure there is consistency.
Housing Commission Chairwoman Cindy Holler said that is what the commission has been trying to do, comparing its effort on the variances to creating “buckets” that allow “flexibility — not a free-for-all.”
Carrignan compared the ordinance’s requirements for affordable housing to a box,where the requirements are the same, whether the city’s affordable housing is 12 percent or 18 percent of the overall housing stock. That, he said, is why a sliding scale might work better, tempering the affordable housing requirements down when the availability is high, as it is now, but ratcheting the requirements back up when the percentage declines.
The concept appeared to have straw support — nods of affirmation — among both commissioners and aldermen.
Tungare said the Community Development Department staff will put together a proposed amendment to the ordinance that incorporates the sliding scale concept. The Housing Commission, she said, likely will review that on Oct. 18. If the commission recommends those changes, the amendment then would move into the public hearings process, which includes reviews by the city’s Planning Commission, the City Council Planning and Development Committee, and then a final review by the City Council.
- June 15, 2012: City Takes Snapshot of Affordable Housing