“The horse has left the barn on affordable housing—the city is committed to it. And I support our Housing Advisory Commission's recommendations to meet state requirements.”
— Mark Urda
Speaking about Affordable Housing is a touchy subject. For some people, it’s a means to expand housing opportunities for Napervillians. For others, it’s nothing but a recipe for importing crime and depressing property values.
This isn’t the venue to litigate the various merits of each side’s argument and really, it’s a moot point—the city is committed to increasing it’s percentage of affordable housing stock in order to conform with the state target of 10%. Late to the game, we are the only large city in Illinois to fall short of that benchmark.
Whether it's townhouses for young professionals, attached homes for downsizing divorcees or modest condos for seniors tired of yard maintenance, the need is there for those who want to stay in Naperville. But it's not as profitable to developers who know that the demand for large, luxury homes has not been sated.
We expect government to balance the wishes of profit-driven developers against what we as a community see as in our best interests. That's an easy concept to grasp when we're talking about high-rises or vehicle-clogged streets. But change that conversation to proving housing choices for each stage in the life of the average Napervillian and the collective public reaction is more muted (until questions come up over who the buyer might be). Sadly, that gives developers room to sway the outcome to their advantage.
The council recently started a months-long, formal evaluation to shift that conversation back to the community's best interests, and ultimately what the city’s affordable housing ordinance should be. It will likely be the first major topic that any newly elected council member will deal with and, if given the chance, I would look forward to immersing myself in it!
I’d approach it with a favorable eye to the eight recommendations made last year by the (formerly named) Housing Advisory Commission. These approach the problem from several different directions. A few of which are seeking out developers with success in building affordable housing, preserving the existing stock, creating a housing trust fund to help vets and front line workers purchase a home, and creating housing-specific staff positions to retain and leverage our growing knowledge of this important topic.
There’s no guaranteed rubber stamps to be given out, though. Each of these recommendations could have pitfalls and unintended consequences that sour the council’s interest. Those need to be identified and evaluated so that a sweet spot can be found where the ordinance works, the public is on board and developers don’t declare Naperville a poisoned well.
That’s gonna take some consensus-building. I’m all-in on guiding others on the council to recognize what the sweet spot might be in the face of what I foresee as some contentious public opinions.