City panel allocates $1.2 million in federal grants for housing, infrastructure projects

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Senior Property Maintenance Inspector Angel Schnur (left) discusses housing policies with City Council members Eleanor Revelle (center) and Clare Kelly during a meeting in November. (Photo by Duncan Agnew)

At a virtual meeting of the city’s Housing and Community Development Committee on Tuesday evening, members discussed and approved more than $1.2 million in Community Development Block Grants for housing and infrastructure projects.

According to US Department of Housing and Urban Developmentthe federal CDBG program aims “to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities, primarily for people with low and middle incomes”.

In Evanston, the majority of CDBG funding typically goes towards affordable housing efforts and infrastructure improvements to roads, sidewalks, parks and other public spaces. At the December 14 meeting, the committee unanimously approved an estimated $527,500 for affordable housing and $729,625 for “livable communities” in the 2022 CDBG funds.

Affordable housing money will be used to carry out essential home repairs in low-income areas and housing code enforcement, which includes funding for five property maintenance inspectors to identify violations security committed by owners and owners.

As part of its livable communities goal, the committee allocated $390,000 to pave a driveway north of Emerson Street and east of Hartrey Avenue, $150,000 for sidewalk infill on Foster Street , $129,625 for general sidewalk improvements throughout the city and $60,000 for electrical upgrades to park shelters. Repairs to the park shelter will make it possible to equip one of the belvederes of a public park in the 5th arrondissement with electrical wiring and power outlets.

Hugo Rodriguez, Evanston resident and committee member, said he found it “embarrassing” that much of the funding was going to these infrastructure projects instead of issues he saw as more pressing, such as the homelessness and affordable housing. Fifth Ward Council member Bobby Burns said the city is devoting other funds to affordable housing and CDBG can be a rigid and inflexible program given federal requirements for how grant money is deployed. .

“Often the city uses a combination of different funds to support its efforts, including sidewalk improvements, alley improvements, depending on where it is,” Burns said at the meeting. “And so there are other funds that we use to develop new affordable housing, to do renovations. It’s not just these funds, it’s affordable housing funds, TIF funds, so I just wanted to make that point.

City Engineer Lara Biggs and other committee members also stressed the importance of maintaining sidewalks throughout the city, especially in vulnerable areas near schools or seniors’ residences. Young children and elderly residents need accessible walkways where they can travel safely to and from places like schools or the grocery store, Biggs said.

One of the areas the city has targeted for CDBG sidewalk improvements, for example, is near a Walgreens drugstore across from the Over the Rainbow Association, which is an independent living facility for people with physical disabilities.

“I am someone who has been homeless, my family was forced to leave the town of Evanston because we couldn’t afford to live here, so I understand on a deep personal level how necessary it is [affordable housing] east,” said 8th Ward council member Devon Reid. “But also, we want to realize that by putting people in this affordable housing, we want to have a neighborhood that they should be proud to live in. So we also have to keep pace with streets, parks and all things. that make this neighborhood a safe and clean place to live.

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