Many households in Evanston’s historic Black area are at great risk of being displaced by gentrification
Public and private investment in an area can revitalize it and provide important benefits to residents who can afford to stay. The downside, though, is that as an area becomes more desirable, rents, property values and property taxes may increase and force out people who cannot afford to stay.
The challenge facing many communities across the country is how to invest in an area in an equitable manner without displacing current residents. Evanston is facing that issue now, particularly in light of the planned investments in the historic Black area of Evanston, whose boundaries are very close to those of U.S census tract 8092, shown in the map below.
That area has changed from 95% Black in 1990 to 52% Black in 2020, according to U.S. census data. For many years, people have expressed concerns that the area has been gentrifying, and that many Black households have been displaced – forced out – due to higher rents and higher property values and property taxes. 
In the last 15 years, the City of Evanston has adopted plans to invest and stimulate investments in the historic Black area. Some of the major plans are the West End Overlay District created in 2009 (and the West End TIF District created in 2015); the Five/Fifths TIF District created in 2021; and the Evanston Thrives Action Plan approved in 2023.
In 2022, the District 65 School Board decided to build a new K-8 school with capacity for up to 900 students in this historic Black area. This will restore a neighborhood school to the area, which has been lacking one since District 65 desegregated its schools in 1967. 
Each of these plans has a laudable purpose. But the plans and investments may make the area more desirable and increase rents, property values and property taxes. If that happens, there is a great risk that households with annual incomes less than $50,000 will be displaced, Sue Loellbach, Director of Advocacy for Connections for the Homeless and leader of Joining for Affordable Housing, told the RoundTable.
In 2021, 34.6% of the households in census track 8092 had annual incomes less than $25,000 and are regarded as “extremely low-income; and 23.6% had incomes between $25,000 and $50,000, and are regarded as “very low-income.”
In adopting the Five-Fifths TIF, city council committed that it would spend TIF funds to help households currently living in the TIF district to stay there, and to preserve and develop affordable housing. But it is unclear whether the goal is to “prevent” displacement or simply to “limit” displacement, or whether the goal is simply to spend an unspecified amount of money on certain programs without measuring the impact on displacement. In addition, there is no clear goal to prevent or limit displacement of extremely low-income and very low-income households.
Council Member Bobby Burns, who represents the Fifth Ward which includes census tract 8092, told the RoundTable he thinks the city has a moral obligation to make investments in the community. Simultaneously, though, he says the city must take an active role in preserving and developing affordable housing in the area.
There are no easy answers to prevent displacement. Mayor Daniel Biss told the RoundTable, “City Council has been involved in a goal-setting process. and we’ve named affordability as a top priority. The next step from that is to really establish concrete measurable goals because, frankly, the problem is so big and a lot of what you need to do to address it is so expensive, if you don’t have a concrete goal to hold yourself accountable to, there’s a good chance you won’t do enough.”
Whether affordable housing will be preserved or developed at the scale necessary to prevent displacement, particularly of extremely-low and very-low income households, remains to be seen.
This article a) summarizes some of the research discussing the tension between gentrification and displacement; b) presents some of the demographic trends in census tract 8092 that suggest that gentrification has already taken place and that many residents would be vulnerable to displacement if rents or property taxes rise; c) discusses the planned and proposed investments in the census tract that could accelerate gentrification; d) discusses past and planned efforts to mitigate displacement of residents through the preservation of affordable housing in the area; and e) considers the demand for housing in Evanston generally and how this may impact what happens in census tract 8092.
A. THE TENSION BETWEEN INVESTMENT AND DISPLACMENT
A 2015 report prepared by Miriam Zuk and six colleagues at the Universities of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles says, “One particular category of neighborhood change is gentrification, definitions and impacts of which have been debated for at least fifty years. Central to these debates is confronting and documenting the differential impacts on incumbent and new residents, and questions of who bears the burden and who reaps the benefits of changes.” The authors note that displacement of current residents is “one of gentrification’s most pronounced negative impacts.” (Zuk, p. 2).
The Zuk study and many others recognize that private and public investment in an area may revitalize an area and make it more attractive and desirable. This may lead to an increase in property values, higher property taxes and higher rents. And this in turn may make the area unaffordable to low- or even moderate-income residents and in essence force them out – displace them.
People who can afford to stay benefit. Those who cannot afford to stay are displaced.
The National Community Reinvestment Center (NCRC) recognizes that gentrification may have both positive benefits and negative effects. On the positive side, if private and public investments are made in a neighborhood, the neighborhood may experience an “economic revival,” and existing homeowners may benefit from increased home values. Homeowners and renters may also benefit from improved housing, upgraded neighborhood amenities, better schools, parks and more local businesses. 
“Yet behind the potential positive impacts of gentrification lurk the possibilities of displacement as lower-income renters and homeowners can no longer afford to remain in the neighborhood,” says NCRC. (NCRC, 2016, p.4)
NCRC recognizes that “lower-income renters are more likely to be displaced than lower-[income] homeowners.” NCRC explains that landlords may raise rents in a gentrifying neighborhood, taking into account the increase in property values as it occurs. Unlike renters, people who already own a home benefit from an increase in property values; they are primarily impacted by an increase in property taxes.
The full impact of gentrification may not be immediate, but it may take place over time. NCRC says, “[A] number of lower-income residents of gentrifying neighborhoods will strive to remain in gentrifying neighborhoods so that their families can benefit from improving neighborhood amenities, schools, and job prospects. However, a potential problem for lower-income tenants and homeowners is increases in housing cost burden. When housing costs exceed 30 percent of monthly income, the household is considered to have a cost burden. When housing costs exceed 50 percent of monthly income, the household is considered to be confronting a severe housing cost burden, making it difficult to afford other basic necessities.
“As these rising costs reduce the supply of affordable housing, existing residents, who are often black or Hispanic, are displaced. This prevents them from benefiting from the economic growth and greater availability of services that come with increased investment.” (NCRC 2016, p. 4)
The rising costs may not only impact current residents, but they may also deter lower-income and perhaps moderate-income households from moving into a gentrifying area in the future.
Ingrid Gould Ellen, a professor for Urban Planning and Policy at New York University, said in a paper, “Even if residents are not directly displaced, the rising rents mean that lower-income households, absent subsidies, will likely find it increasingly difficult to move in and remain in gentrifying neighborhoods over time.” (Ellen, p. 3)
Understanding demographic trends and the income levels, housing status and housing costs of current residents in an area is important to understand the risk of displacing those residents.
B. DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS
1. Changes In Race/Ethnicity
In 1940, 95% of the households in the area now designated as census tract 8092 were Black. In 1990, fifty years later, 94.3% of households were Black. Starting in the 1990s, however, the race/ethnicity of the population in census tract 8092 began to change.
The chart below shows the number of Black only, Hispanic only, White only, Asian only, multi-racial, and other groups living in census tract 8092 in 2000, 2010 and 2020. Each subgroup, except Hispanic, excludes people of Hispanic origin. The chart shows that the number of Black people who lived in the area declined from 4,079 in 2000 to 2,590 in 2020. Conversely, the number of Hispanic and white people living in the area significantly increased.
The chart below shows the same data but expressed as percentages. The bars in the chart are also grouped by census year, rather than by race/ethnicity. The chart graphically shows the change in the racial/ethnic composition of census tract 8092 in 2000, 2010 and 2020.
In 2020, Black, Hispanic and white racial/ethnic groups were dispersed throughout census tract 8092, although there are higher concentrations of certain racial/ethnic groups on some of the blocks.
The map below, prepared by the City of Evanston, contains a dot for each household in census tract 8092. A blue dot shows where a Black household lived in 2020, a red dot shows where a Hispanic household lived, and a yellow dot shows where a white household lived.
The census bureau has broken down census tract 8092 into four Block Groups. The highest percentage of white households (23.1%) is in Block Group 2, which is in the eastern portion of the census tract, east of Darrow. The highest percentage of Hispanic households (34.6%) resided in Block Group 3, which is west of Dodge Avenue and south of Emerson Street. The highest percentage of Black households (60.1%) resided in Block Group 4, west of Dodge.
Council Member Burns told the RoundTable, “I think the neighborhood is changing, and will continue to change. And some of that, honestly, I see as a positive.”
He said that many of the policies that led to the segregation of the Fifth Ward have changed, and “we’ve made other areas of Evanston more welcoming, and I think you’ve seen people just have the ability to move elsewhere.” So, he said, some of the decline of the Black population in census tract 8092 is due to “people are making a personal decision to move where they feel most comfortable.”
Burns added, though, “Anecdotally, just through the people that call me, I think the cost of housing in Evanston is causing people to decide to move elsewhere.
“And I think it’s for two reasons. One, when you’re having that conversation at your kitchen table, it’s not only what you might be able to afford to buy a home in Evanston. I think many people are saying, ‘I can spend $250,000, and spend another $150,000 or $200,000, rehabbing the house, or I can take that same $250,000 to North Chicago and Waukegan and buy a move-in ready home.’”
“On the rental side,” he said,” most of the people who reach out to me just can’t find apartments with an affordable rent. We have affordable housing in Evanston, there’s just not enough and they can’t find it. The demand right now outweighs the supply.
“So, I think that’s the other piece. It all comes back to affordable housing, whether it’s for-sale or for-rent for many people.
“Bottom line, if to live in Evanston you would have to pay 30 to 50 plus percent of your income towards housing, you may make the financial decision to invest elsewhere.”
Burns added that the city needs to make sure it is investing in the area and making the case that people should purchase or rent a home there, even though it may not be as large a home as they could buy or rent elsewhere.
2. Household Income
The table below shows the annual median incomes for households and for families in census tract 8092 for the years 2010 and 2021. The term “family” is used to reflect related individuals living together in a dwelling unit. “Household” includes families and also people who live alone or with unrelated groups of people in a dwelling unit. The incomes reported for 2010 are not adjusted to 2021 dollars for inflation. The data is taken from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, five-year estimates (2021 “ACS”). 
Despite the inflation that took place between 2010 and 2021, the median household and family incomes reported in 2021 declined from the levels reported in 2010. This downward trend seems counter to the general theory of gentrification – that more affluent households are attracted to a gentrifying area and drive up prices. The decline in income may be due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2021 household income data show, though, that many of the households may be at risk of displacement in the future if housing costs increase. For 2021, the median household income in census tract 8092 ($45,709) was 52% of the median household income for Evanston ($87,345), and it was 63% of the median household income for all of Cook County ($72,121).
Other data show:
- 22.8% of the households in census tract 8092 have incomes below the poverty line, which is almost double Evanston’s overall poverty rate of 11.9%;
- 28% of seniors live below the poverty line;
- Overall, 35.6% of households have an annual income less than $25,000 a year, an amount that is 33% of the median household income for all of Cook County;
- And, 23.6% of households have an annual household income between $25,000 and $50,000. At the high end, the income is 69% of the median household income for all of Cook County, (2021 ACS)
Not surprisingly, many of the households in census tract 8092 are paying more than 30% of their income toward housing, thus falling into the category of having a housing cost burden.
According to the 2021 ACS, 71% of the households who are renting in census tract are paying more than 30% of their income toward rent, and of those, 59% are paying more than 35% of their income toward rent. The data does not show the percentage paying more than 50% of their income toward rent; those households would be bearing a “severe housing cost burden.”
For homeowners with a mortgage, 42% are paying more than 30% of their income toward housing and 28% are paying more than 35%. For homeowners without a mortgage, 38% are paying more than 30% of their income toward housing and, of those, 28% are paying more than 35%.
The households paying more than 30% and 35% of their income toward housing are at greater risk of being displaced if rents or property taxes increase.
This view is supported by a survey of 651 Evanston residents that was presented to Evanston’s Equity and Empowerment Commission on Dec. 15, 2022. In the survey, 22% of the respondents who resided in the Fifth Ward said that they or someone in their family moved out of Evanston in the past three years due to the cost of housing. In addition, 26% of the respondents who resided in the Fifth Ward said it was “highly unlikely” that they would be able to afford to live in Evanston in five years.
The survey also reports that 58% of the respondents who had incomes less than $25,000, said that they or someone in their family moved out of Evanston in the past three years due to the cost of housing; 31% of the respondents with incomes between $25,000 and $55,000 said they or someone in their family moved out of Evanston in the past three years due to the cost of housing.
The chart below shows the percentage of households in census tract 8092 who had incomes within various ranges. (2021 ACS).
3. Increasing rents and home values
Monthly rents and property values in census tract 8092 have significantly increased between 1990 and 2021. The table below shows the trends. The numbers are not adjusted for inflation, but the significant increases may have pushed lower-income households with fixed incomes out of Evanston. (U.S. census for 1990 and ACS for 2000, 2010, and 2021).
Despite these increases, the rents and home values are still significantly below those in Evanston as a whole:
- In 2021, the median rent for an apartment in census tract 8092 was $1,155, compared to $1,526 for Evanston as a whole.
- The median value of an owner-occupied home in the census tract was $261,800, compared to $410,000 for Evanston as a whole. 
The lower rents and housing values in census tract 8092 may make the area more attractive to newcomers who want to move to Evanston and who are looking for less expensive housing. Public and private investment, including a new school, would likely make the area even more attractive. And the demand for housing in Evanston as a whole may further contribute to the demand for housing in census tract 8092 and contribute to gentrification in the area.
If rents and property taxes increase, the greatest impact will likely be felt by households paying more than 30% and 35% of their income on housing. As noted above, high percentages of households in census tract 8092 are above that threshold.
In 2021, there was an estimated 1,562 housing units in census tract 8092 that were occupied. Of those, 729 were owner-occupied and 833 were rented. (2021 ACS)
4. Education Level
One factor that researchers look at to determine if an area is gentrifying is whether the education level in the area is increasing.
Between 1990 and 2021, the percentage of people 25 years and older who graduated from high school (including a GED) increased from 58.7% to 89.1%. The percentage who earned a bachelor’s or higher degree increased from 10.4% to 25.5%.
The chart below shows the trends. (U.S. census for 1990 and ACS for 2000, 2010, and 2021).
Some of the increase in educational attainment may be due to increased efforts at Evanston Township High School to ensure that all students graduate, but some of the increase may reflect that gentrification is occurring.
5. Property tax Increases
According to ACS data, the total real estate taxes paid on owner-occupied housing units in census tract 8092 increased from an estimated $1,222,600 in 2000 to $3,171,600 in 2020, or by about 160%. This averages to about an 8% increase each year.
The total real estate taxes paid on owner-occupied housing units in all of Evanston increased by about 170% in the same period, again according to ACS data.
Researchers have recognized that increases in property taxes can create additional burdens on low-income households and force them out of a community. This is a complaint that has often been made by residents and housing advocates in Evanston.
“Property taxes are one of the most significant annual costs for homeowners. Property tax increases can disproportionately impact modest-income households, and there are concerns that this is intensified in neighborhoods with rapidly rising house prices,” says a 2023 research paper, “Exploring the Impacts of Rising Property Taxes in Changing Neighborhoods.”
6. Length of residency
Only 8% of the current residents in Census Tract 8092 have lived in their current home for more than 30 years (i.e., since before Jan. 1, 1990); and, a total of only 15% have lived in their current home for more than 20 years (i.e., since before Jan. 1, 2000).
About 35% of the people who lived in the area in 2021 moved in after Jan. 1, 2015.
The chart below graphically illustrates this data as of 2021. (2021 ACS).
People move for a lot of reasons. Many move to be closer to a job, or to be closer to family, or because they divorced, or to get a bigger home for less money, or to downsize, or for better schools, or for other reasons. There is no hard data tracking why people have moved out of census tract 8092. But some of the movement is because people can no longer afford to live in Evanston.
C. PUBLIC INVESTMENTS MAY SPUR GENTRIFICATION
Understanding how public investment impacts neighborhood change is critical says the Zuk report: “[A]t a time when so many U.S. regions are considering how best to accommodate future growth via public investment, developing a better understanding of its relationship with neighborhood change is critical to crafting more effective policy.” (Zuk, p. 2)
The report found that many different types of both private and public investments in an area may lead to gentrification and displacement of current residents. “Government investment in a wide range of neighborhood infrastructure and services can also have significant impacts on property values and neighborhood change.” This includes investments in streets, sidewalks, lighting or parks; rehabilitation of homes; public building construction; construction of a new school; demolition of existing homes to make way for new housing or for safety or health reasons; as well as planning and zoning decisions. ( Zuk, pp. 21, 24 and 36)
Many of these investments are positive for a neighborhood and some may be necessary to prevent neighborhood decay. But by improving an area and making it more desirable, they may have the effect of increasing rents and increasing property values and taxes and end up displacing existing residents.
The Zuk report says, “The primary concern of gentrification is one of its negative outcomes: displacement. Given today’s landscape of public investments, advocates and scholars are increasingly concerned that public investments may create a situation in which incumbent residents have fewer options than they did before and are forced out or can’t move in.” (Zuk, p. 23)
Many researchers recognize the tension between the benefits of revitalizing an area and the negative effect of displacing existing residents. NCRC sums up the dilemma as follows: “Gentrification presents a challenge to communities that are trying to achieve economic revitalization without the disruption that comes with displacement (NCRC, 2019, p. 4)
NCRC comes down on the side of making investments in an area, but it also recommends that cities implement methods to prevent displacement of current residents. NCRC says, “Local advocates and officials should pursue policies that encourage investment while promoting the ability of existing residents to stay and benefit from revitalization.” ( NCRC, 2019, p. 6)
The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) espouses a similar view. It says in a 2019 report, “Development without displacement is the key. Fighting against displacement rather than fighting against development should be the focus.” (NLIHC, p. 3)
Councilmember Burns told the RoundTable, “Some people say, ‘If you make a neighborhood more desirable, people will want to move in, and that will create displacement.’ And I think the error in stopping there, morally speaking, is that essentially if we take that attitude, we won’t address the problem as it continues to happen. … We’ve basically justified not investing in certain parts of town and this disinvestment leads to the income and other inequities that we see.”
He acknowledged that it is possible that investment in an area can lead to an increase in home values. He added, though, “I think if you would talk to most people, they will see that as a positive. Because it will raise the value of the home, people will able to sell their homes for higher amounts, which I think generally is a positive thing.”
He added the city should also invest its funds to help preserve and develop affordable housing to mitigate against displacement of current residents.
Understanding a city’s and a school district’s investment and development plans and understanding how those plans may spur private investment in an area is critical to gauging the risk of displacing current residents of an area, particularly those who are extremely- or very-low income.
Some of the major plans for public and private investments in the historic Black area include: 1) the planned development called for in the West End Master Plan and Overlay and the West End TIF; 2) potential investments through the Five-Fifths TIF fund; 3) the construction of a new school in the Fifth Ward; and 4) the investments recommended in the Evanston Thrives Action Plan, all of which promote change.
1. The West Evanston Master Plan and Overlay
On May 14, 2007, Evanston’s City Council adopted the West
Evanston Physical Planning and Urban Infill Design Master Plan (the “Master Plan”). The plan contains recommendations for the use of property located in the historic Black area and generally running along the former Mayfair railroad right-of-way and embankment. The railroad is no longer in use.
The plan recommends the area be developed with townhouses, small lot-size single-family homes, six- and nine-flat buildings, apartment buildings, mixed-use buildings and open space. The plan says the recommendations are intended to “require” the types of development that are specified in the plan, as opposed to “guiding” the development. The designated uses are shown through the color coding in the map below.
- In the area between Foster and Simpson streets, the plan calls for townhouses – 48 units; and mixed-use apartments – 20 to 40 units.
- In the area between Emerson and Foster streets, the plan calls for townhouses – 44 units; six- or nine-flats – 30 to 60 units; and apartment buildings – 24 to 52 units.
- In the area between Church and Emerson streets, the plan calls for townhouses – 145 units; apartment building – 24 to 48 units; and mixed use apartments – 36 to 72 units.
The Master Plan does not require that any of the units be affordable, but the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance, discussed below, may apply.
On Jan. 26, 2009, the city amended its zoning code by adding a “West Evanston Overlay District” and a form-based code overlay, which are intended to implement the Master Plan. 
There has been virtually no development in the West Evanston Overlay District since it was created. In an April 13, 2020 memo, Melissa Klotz, the city’s Zoning Administrator, said the housing market crashed in 2007 and that the “drastic market change meant areas noted in the [Master] Plan that require the aggregation of multiple properties and the extension of public streets and infrastructure are exceptionally difficult or impossible to redevelop exactly as the Plan directs.” She added, “City staff is aware of multiple properties noted in the Plan that can be easily redeveloped in accordance with the Plan without consolidation of ownership, as well as multiple properties that are extremely difficult or impossible to redevelop based on the Plan and current separate ownership that therefore continue to be underutilized or vacant.”
So, as things have turned out, some of the developments contemplated may not be feasible, but others are still possible.
Much of the land within the Master Plan (which is color coded in the above map) is also in the West Evanston TIF District adopted by the city in 2005. In a TIF District, the increment of property tax revenues – that is, the difference between 1) the property tax revenue generated on a parcel of property when it is put into the TIF and 2) the property tax revenues generated on the parcel of property after the TIF is formed – is placed into a TIF fund, which can be used to pay for certain infrastructure projects and specified other uses generally within the TIF District.
Under the West Evanston TIF’s Redevelopment Plan, the city has broad authority to use TIF funds to acquire property, demolish buildings, and construct public improvements, including roads, sidewalks, utilities, lighting, landscaping and streetscaping. The city may thus use the TIF funds to stimulate the development called for in the Master Plan. So far, that has not happened.
But city council has recently approved the use of about $1.3 million in funds from this TIF to assist in two efforts to develop affordable housing, neither of which is within the West End Overlay District. see below.
Paul Zalmezak , the city’s Economic Development Manager, said in a June 27, 2022, memo the West Evanston TIF District is generating about $1.8 million annually in TIF funds. Going forward, it may generate more funding.
2. The Five-Fifths TIF District
On Oct. 25, 2021, city council approved a new tax-increment financing (TIF) district that includes the eastern portion of the historic Black area. On the north end, the boundary line runs along the North Shore Channel to as far west as Darrow Avenue, and then zig-zags to as far south as Emerson Steet. The TIF includes Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, Foster Field and the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building, and it will include the proposed new school for the Fifth Ward. A map showing the boundaries of the TIF District is reprinted below.
The Redevelopment Plan estimates that there will be a total of $89.25 million in project costs in this TIF District, which include land acquisition, assembly costs, and relocation ($2.5 million); demolition, site preparation, environmental cleanup and related costs ($6.2 million); public improvements and infrastructure improvements ($13 million); public facilities/improvements (including capital costs for city-related improvements and taxing districts’ capital costs) ($24 million); construction and relocation of public buildings pursuant to the Act ($10 million); rehabilitation costs and affordable housing construction costs ($9.75 million); planning, legal, engineering, administrative and other professional service costs ($8.8 million); and job training ($2 million).
The Redevelopment Plan says that public improvements and certain other costs are expected to be paid for with TIF funds or with amounts borrowed by the city (including by the issuance of bonds) and then paid off with TIF funds. The majority of development costs, however, will be privately financed, and TIF funds and other public money is to be used only to leverage and commit private redevelopment activity.
When the new TIF was being proposed, some residents said they felt threatened by the prospect of “outside” developers coming in, rents and property taxes going up and being forced out of Evanston.
The city attempted to address these concerns by adopting Resolution No. 88-R-21. The resolution states, among other things, that “the City intends to redevelop and encourage residential use, retail, commercial and institutional uses to upgrade and modernize facilities within the City as part of its ongoing economic development planning,” that “several members of the community have expressed concerns with the proposed TIF District, including potential displacement and gentrification in the community, and with the potential benefits it will provide the community,” and that “the City believes that equity forms the foundation for this proposed TIF plan, and the intended investments and the restrictions recommended by Staff provide assurances that TIF funding be devoted to those most in need.”
In an effort to achieve these purposes and to address the community’s concerns about gentrification and displacement, the city made a number of commitments concerning how it will invest TIF funds. The first two commitments are to preserve owner-occupied homes and rental homes and to develop affordable housing, discussed in more detail below.
In a third commitment, the city commits “to support using TIF funds for workforce development by supporting the creation of job training programs; and the expansion of childcare space.
The fourth, fifth and sixth commitments are:
- “support using TIF funds for infrastructure, by funding new infrastructure and maintaining existing infrastructure, some of which has suffered from deferred maintenance. This may be accomplished by focusing on water, sewer, street, sidewalk, bike path, walking path, and wayfinding projects.
- “support using TIF funds for public spaces, including community centers and recreational spaces, to a high-quality standard that is equal or exceeds the quality of facilities in other areas of the City.”
- “support using TIF funds for Business District improvement by supporting small businesses directly and the districts in which they are located, including Simpson/Ashland, Emerson/Asbury, and Green Bay Road.” To do this, the city may use TIF funds for : a) “façade improvement programs, including awnings, tuckpointing, storefront glass, doors, and signage”; b) “Storefront Modernization programs focused on interior renovations and leasehold improvements affixed to the property, including HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems,” c) “improving business capacity: d) “streetscape improvements,” e) “Business District identity, signage, and lighting improvements.”
While the intent of the Five-Fifths TIF District is to improve and revitalize the area while limiting displacement of current residents, it may be difficult to thread that needle. This point was debated in many meetings before the TIF was approved.
“It’s a real challenge to try and improve an area without … making it so attractive that you end up pushing out the folks that were intended to be helped,” said Evanston resident Jeff Smith at a meeting in the summer of 2022.
“What [city officials] don’t want is property taxes increasing … Yet, as the neighborhood is improved, it becomes more attractive, and housing values and property taxes increase,” Smith added.
Some residents living in or near the TIF area said they did not feel that the promised improvements, such as bolstering existing businesses, repairing and rehabbing homes to withstand climate change and creating or maintaining affordable housing would benefit current residents.
Other opponents of the TIF, many of whom lived in or near the TIF District, said that, despite the city’s commitment to affordable housing within the TIF district, they feared that city officials might not carry through on that promise or that any affordable housing created would not be for current Fifth Ward residents – or both.
Kevin Brown, a member of the Community Alliance for Better Government and a former city employee who worked extensively with the city’s youth said, “City council … has for the last 20 years been on a track to increase the flow of Black people out of Evanston and has done nothing at all, from a policy perspective, to try to stem that. And so, unfortunately, what I see happening with the TIF is that it’s going to kind of seal the deal, and really prepare the area for the new inheritors.
“One of the challenges – and I haven’t heard an answer to the challenge – is that we have a city council that’s had policies over the last 20 years that have increased gentrification. And that’s what we see happening with the TIF,” said Brown.
Council Member Burns said he felt the proposed TIF district is different from other TIFs, because “we’re being very specific about what the money should be used for. And if anything is counter to gentrification, is counter to the longstanding trend of displacement of residents, is counter to those things that we see in the community [it is this TIF].”
Burns said during the discussions that he believed the improvements proposed, such as affordable housing and workforce development, would benefit the Fifth Ward. Workforce development, he said, could include training people to work on the lead-pipe replacement project the city is contemplating. “It’s about a two- or three-person job. So, it’s good work that residents could do in the city and in other cities as well.
“Infrastructure is another avenue,” Burns said. “We’ve talked a lot about expanding the footprint of Fleetwood, adding the swimming pool and other amenities that folks have talked about for a while in the community.” He also mentioned business district improvement, facade improvement and storefront modernization programs.
“Gentrification is already occurring,” Burns said.
“If we do nothing, we’re going to continue to see the same results, which is the displacement of longtime Evanston residents. But if we can find a way to identify funds to support the things we know create stability and communities, then we may have a shot at slowing down what feels like an inevitable, unstoppable pattern that we see in every city,” he said.
Zalmezak recommended that city council adopt Resolution 88-R-21. In a memo dated Oct. 25, 2021, he said, “The proposed Five-Fifths TIF district is perhaps one of a kind as its primary intent is to maintain cultural, socioeconomic and racial diversity in one of the region’s strongest Black communities.
“The proposed TIF plan provides a sustainable source of funds to help long time property owners maintain and upgrade their lifelong investments hopefully providing the ability to pass on to future generations. TIF is a stable funding source to be used for targeted upgrades to infrastructure, amenities, business districts, and housing renovations typical in most Evanston neighborhoods. Equity forms the foundation of this proposed TIF plan. The investment plan staff is recommending provide assurances that the funding will be devoted to those in most need,” Zalmezak continued.
While well intentioned, many the improvements mentioned in the TIF document are the type of investments that the Zuk study says may lead to gentrification and displacement. Whether the city will be successful in making investments that improve the area without causing further gentrification and displacement of current residents remains to be seen.
3. A new school in the historic Black area
On March 14, 2022, the District 65 School Board approved plans to establish a new K-8 school in the historic Black area of Evanston, census tract 8092. On May 22 of that year, city council approved necessary zoning changes for the new school. A site plan for the new school contained in District 65’s application for the zoning changes dated April 14, 2023, is reprinted below.
The new school will have capacity to serve 900 students. Under the plan, about one-half of the school will be a magnet school that houses the Two-Way Immersion program, a dual language program that includes Spanish-speaking and English-speaking students. The other half of the school will be for neighborhood students.
The historic Black area has been without a neighborhood school since District 65’s desegregation plan was implemented in 1967, and it has been without a school for grades K-8 since 1979.
Many people have expressed a concern that a new school would attract more people into the area, increase property values, spur gentrification and displace current residents.
Henry Wilkins, founder of the non-profit organization STEM School Evanston and a strong supporter of establishing a new school in the Fifth Ward, said at a community forum on May 20, 2021, that there’s “actually gentrification going on,” in the Fifth Ward, and “my personal belief is that the gentrification could be sped up if you make it a neighborhood school.”
“A school in a neighborhood is desirable,” said Smith. “If you add a walk to school – at the old Foster School or anywhere else in the historic Fifth Ward – that is an ingredient in gentrification.
“It’s likely to drive up property values and prices and the desirability of a neighborhood. That creates wealth for people that were there. But it is an ingredient in gentrification,” Smith added.
Research supports the view that a new school may spur gentrification and displacement. The Zuk study found, “The quality of public schools is widely believed to be a key determinant of housing prices,” and that, “Proximity to high quality schools … increases home values.” (Zuk, pp. 21–24 and 45)
The District 65 School Board itself expressed concerns in August and September 2021 that the Fifth Ward was at risk of additional gentrification due to the creation of the Five-Fifths TIF, discussed above. In a statement delivered to members of City Council in September 2021, members of the District 65 school Board said there was a need to commit to affordable housing (with a focus on three- and four-bedroom units), a need for “real estate tax protection for residential property,” a need “to prevent gentrification” and the need “to reduce unintended consequences including disparate harm to economically marginalized communities and communities of color.”
When it came time to approving a new school in the Fifth Ward at a cost of $40 million, though, members of the District 65 School Board did not publicly consider or discuss the impact that the new school would have on gentrification or the displacement of residents.
Indeed, District 65 entered into a revenue sharing agreement with the city regarding TIF funds generated in the Five-Fifths TIF under which the district is entitled to receive some TIF funds. Those funds may assist the school district in establishing the new school, but less will then be available to devote to preserving and developing affordable housing.
Council Member Burns told the RoundTable that the new school will likely increase property values but “the amount they would likely be increased will not only be positive but won’t make a huge difference in whether or not somebody can afford to stay in Evanston.”
He added, “I think people assume that a school will only attract higher-income residents. But I think, again, a school makes a case for everybody that has school-aged children, that this is a place that they want to invest in, and they want to fight to stay here. So, I think it helps us to just make a case across the board why this is a desirable area, that’s worth paying a bit more to live in.”
There is another important dimension to this as well. The School Board ostensibly approved placing a new school in the historic Black area to correct a historical wrong of closing a neighborhood school in that area more than 50 years ago. If the area gentrifies and becomes occupied by more white and Hispanic households, as has been the trend, the decision could end up benefiting white and Hispanic households more than Black households.
How much the new school will impact rents, property values and property taxes, and whether low- and moderate-income residents will be displaced and whether the Black population will continue to decrease and the white and Hispanic population will continue to increase, remains to be seen.
4. The Evanston Thrives Action Plan
On May 8, 2023, city council adopted the “Evanston Thrives, a Retail District Action Plan.” The Action Plan contains recommendations concerning many areas in Evanston, two of which are in census tract 8092: the “Hills Arts District” and a “Central Evanston Retail District.”
The Hills Arts District: The Action Plan says that a new school in the Fifth Ward School and a new public skate park in Twiggs Park “will change the pattern of activity in the area.” The new $1.75 million skate park was approved by city council on March 13, 2013 and is under construction. 
The area of this district is shaded pink in the map below. The map also shows the location of the new Fifth Ward school and the skate park. There are 53 licensed businesses in this area, 49 on the ground floor. The Walgreens shopping center, which opened in the 1990s, is located at the southeastern corner of the district.
The Action Plan says, “Awareness of the district has grown in recent years with the expansion of Soul & Smoke, which has benefited from earned media, and the opening of Double Clutch Brewing Co. … The district has a hipness that offers a unique potential to stand out among Evanston’s more conventional retail corridors.”
The recommendations include:
- Connect the new school and the new skate park with “physical interventions that expand and enhance the pedestrian experience” between the two, and “explore a lighting element such as festoon or sidewalk swag lighting to tie the main two blocks together;”
- Address broken sidewalks, potholes and overflowing dumpsters and increase the number of bike racks in the area;
- create a central gathering space for events;
- Pursue and support development of a “makers zone” – an area with spaces that small-scale craftspeople can afford to design, make, sell and/or fulfill their products in the same space.
At an Economic Development Committee meeting on July 26, city officials said that the visitors to the Hill Arts area in the last year were 55% white, 16% Hispanic, 15% Black, 11% Asian, and 3% mixed race. They said that visitors were “mainly couples, young singles, starter families and independent seniors.” The information was based on cell phone and census data. This data suggests the area is gentrifying.
The Central Evanston retail district: The Action Plan also contains recommendations for the Central Evanston retail district, which is shaded light orange in the map below. The plan says Central Evanston “has a rich cultural heritage. C&W Market, a family-owned market and ice cream parlor, opened in 2014 by long-time Evanston residents. Ebony Barber Shop opened in 1962 and, in addition to haircare, has been a community hub for civic engagement, advocacy, and polling since its beginning.” The Gibbs Morrison Cultural Center on the northeast corner of Church/Dodge is named in honor of two prominent Black-owned businesses – Gibbs’s Cabs & Service Station and Morrison’s Pharmacy.
Other organizations along Church Street include Church Street Barber Shop, 1905 Church St., and Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.), a non-profit serving Evanston’s youth for many years, which constructed a new building to house its operations at 1911 Church St.
The Action Plan recommends expanding the Gibbs Morrison plaza: “Create a buzz around the corner with visible events and adapt the Gibbs-Morrison café space to support community gatherings. Support big vision redevelopment that brings residential density to the area.”
The plan also recommends that the city explore development of the parking lot at the southeast corner of Church Street and Dodge Avenue. A concept design, shown below, features a plaza area and a multi-story building, with retail space on the ground level, and several stories of residences above. The plan suggests that the retail space be leased at affordable rent levels.
The Action Plan also says respondents to a survey said they want more food options at the corner of Church and Dodge to balance the residential feel of the area. Survey suggestions ranged from bars to family-friendly restaurants.
The public improvements mentioned in Evanston Thrives would require public funding, which could come from a TIF District. Others changes may need private funding. The city’s Economic Development Committee is currently prioritizing all of the recommendations made in the Action Plan.
It is unclear which, if any, of the Action Plan’s recommendations for census tract 8092 will be made. But the plan discusses some changes that have already been made and it provides a vision for the future.
The Zuk study says, “[c]hanges in the commercial environment of gentrifying neighborhoods have been seen as both an instigator and consequence of residential demographic change. Researchers have shown that retail and commercial amenities signal to middle class residents that a low-income neighborhood is changing, consequently attracting new residents.” (Zuk, p. 14)
D. PREVENTING DISPLACEMENT
1. Developing goals and a market-specific plan is essential
A 2008 report, “Managing Neighborhood Change, A Framework for Sustainable and Equitable Revitalization,” prepared by Alan Mallach for the National Housing Institute, says, “There is no single way to eliminate the tension between market change and potential problems for a neighborhood’s lower-income residents, but the ability of any stakeholder to frame a useful solution for a particular community hinges on one critical step: the ability to think clearly about the neighborhood from a market perspective and to frame a strategic approach to change that recognizes the value of both fostering a stronger real-estate market and fostering equitable, balanced revitalization. In other words to lead, not follow the change.”
Mallach says, “Leading neighborhood change is not a linear process, but a series of closely interrelate steps and activities:
- Understanding what is going on from a housing-market perspective and tracking market change in the neighborhood over time;
- Framing and implementing strategies to build a stronger real-estate market in the weak-market areas;
- Framing and implementing effective strategies to ensure that lower-income neighborhood residents benefit from neighborhood changes; and
- Understanding how to shift strategic directions as conditions change, and recognizing which strategies are most suitable at what points in a neighborhood’s course of change.”
Mallach emphasizes it is important to understand the neighborhood because “it is difficult to develop an effective strategy either to move the housing market or mitigate its effects unless one understands the neighborhood’s market conditions and dynamics. Without that information, many neighborhood strategies are little more than guesswork. In contrast, an understanding of the area’s market features can help practitioners and policymakers to craft informed decisions about goals and strategies.” (Mallach, p. 4)
Mallach also says, “Neighborhoods are constantly changing, not only in their real estate market but in other ways that influence housing demand, such as crime, neighborhood schools, or small business activity. Thus, stakeholders need to be able to track how the neighborhood is changing, so that they can see what strategies are working, and what to phase out in favor of new ones.” (Mallach, p. 6)
“As a neighborhood changes, the programs and activities that are most effective in achieving community goals will change. A CDC must understand how to shift from an environment where market building is the priority to one where the focus is on preserving affordability and minimizing displacement. Within that broad framework, neighborhood change demands regular and frequent reappraisal of the specific programs and activities being pursued.” (Mallach, p. 6)
The Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University has been mapping “displacement pressure” resulting from gentrification in Chicago for several years. In its 2022 report, “Mapping Displacement Pressure in Chicago, 2021,” the Institute says it is essential to understand both the market and the vulnerability of a community to evaluate displacement risk due to increased housing costs. “This information is vital not only to inform conversations about the issue of gentrification and displacement … but also to the development of market-specific policy interventions to mitigate displacement before it occurs.”
In discussing possible ways to address gentrification in different areas of Chicago, the Institute says, “Because these market types have different demand drivers, conditions, and risks, they also have different policy interventions to help preserve affordability and mitigate displacement.”
The Institute points out that an area may be vulnerable if it has a high share of lower-income renters or if it has a high share of households that are already cost burdened. It also says that some policies to preserve affordable housing may be ineffective in certain areas. “For example,” it says, “inclusionary zoning policies are ineffective in some moderate and lower costs markets …” And in some markets, the report says, “there is a deficit of both developable and lower-cost land needed to create new affordable housing at scale …”
Many housing advocates and researchers describe various ways that cities may prevent displacement by implementing programs to preserve or develop affordable housing. They recognize “there are no easy answers,” (Ellen, pp. 305) and “there is also not a silver bullet or list of sure-thing policies to prevent displacement.” (NLIHC, pp. 9-13) 
2. The risk of displacement and Resolution 88-R–21
Any plan to prevent displacement should assess and address the needs of the households that are at risk of displacement, set measurable goals to protect those households, and set out a plan to meet those goals.
Many households in the historic Black area of Evanston are at great risk of displacement:
- 35% of the households in the area have incomes at or below $25,000. According to HUD’s AMI tables, a two-person household with an income at or below $25,000 was at 30% of the AMI in 2022, and according to HUD had an “extremely low” income.
- Another 24% of the households in the area had incomes between $25,000 and $50,000. A two-person household with an income of $50,040 was at 60% of the AMI, and according to HUD had a “very low” income.
- In addition, 71% of the households in the area who rent housing are paying more than 30% of their incomes toward housing costs, and 42% of homeowners with a mortgage are paying more than 30% of their income toward housing costs.
The city has no concrete goal to prevent displacement of these households. And it has no plan mapped out on how it would meet such a goal.
As summarized above, the City of Evanston has adopted three major plans to invest in and stimulate development in the historic Black area: the West Evanston Overlay District, the Five-Fifths TIF District, and the Evanston Thrives Action Plan. In addition, School District 65 is establishing a new $40 million school in the area. These plans, together with private investors entering the market and the demand for housing in Evanston generally, are likely to make the area more attractive and increase rents, housing values and property taxes in the area.
Yet, the only reference to preventing displacement or preserving affordable housing in those plans is in Resolution 88-R-21, which was adopted by city council in approving the Five/Fifths TIF. That resolution contains two provisions to help prevent displacement of residents. Section 2 of the Resolution states, “The City commits to support using TIF funds for residential repairs and improvements to encourage home ownership retention and to improve and maintain existing rental housing as desired by existing homeowners and allow aging in place.” The city may do this by:
“a) the use of TIF funds for structural repairs, such as roofing, chimney, and window repair;
“ b) The use of TIF funds for systems improvements, such as HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems;
“c) The use of TIF funds to encourage climate resiliency measures, such as energy efficiency upgrades and the use of solar panels;
“d) The use of TIF funds to prioritize senior citizens, members of the disabled community, long-time homeowners, and low-income residents.”
Section 2 does not specifically focus on preserving “affordable” housing, but it does state that the funds for repairs and upgrades should be prioritized towards low-income and other more vulnerable populations.
Section 3 specifically mentions “affordable” housing. It says, “The City commits to support using TIF funds for Affordable Housing measures to help retain existing homeowners and renters and to support current small and mid-sized landlords. This may be accomplished by:
“a) The use of TIF funds to fund up to 50% of the cost of each affordable housing unit;
“b) The use of TIF funds to give a preference for larger family units,
“c) the use of TIF funds to assist small and mid-sized landlords with repairs and renovations to existing ‘naturally occurring’ affordable housing units;
“d) The use of TIF funds to expand the number of accessory dwelling units (ADUs); and
“e) The use of TIF funds to expand homeowner community land trust programming.”
Section 4 provides that the city commits to using TIF funds for workforce development by assisting small business with programs to train employees for current and future jobs, focusing on residents of the TIF District. The intent is to help raise the income levels of households so they can afford higher rents or higher property taxes.
Section 9 of the Resolution provides that the Mayor will appoint a seven member TIF Advisory Committee, one of whom will be the councilmember of the Fifth Ward; one of whom will be a council member who does not own property in or adjacent to the TIF District; three property owners or occupants of property within or adjacent to the TIF District; a member of the Hill Arts Merchants Association; and a member of the Central Business Association. Two city officials are ex officio, non-voting members.
“The [Advisory] Committee will review and provide recommendations on TIF expenditures for private affordable housing development and create TIF approval guidelines for the home improvement and small business grants. The Committee will also review public infrastructure projects planned to be funded with TIF funds. Staff memos to the City Council will include the Committee’s recommendations. The Committee will also advise the City Council on other matters pertaining to the TIF as appropriate.”
Conceptually, these are positive ways to help mitigate displacement, but the commitments are very general. For example, there is not a clear statement of what the goal is. Is it to “prevent” displacement or to “limit” displacement. Or is the goal simply to implement the programs in Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the Resolution – without monitoring their effect on displacement.
In addition, there is no firm commitment to prevent or limit displacement of “extremely low-income” households (those below 30% of the AMI), or “very low-income” households (those below 50% of the AMI) or low-income households (those below 80% of the AMI). There is no specific goal for households at these or other income levels.
Moreover, there is no policy on how to allocate TIF funds between investing to revitalize the community versus investing to prevent displacement, and no standards on how the allocation should be made.
And the Resolution leaves some thorny questions up in the air. For example, if the city makes a grant to a homeowner to make repairs, will the homeowner be required to keep the home affordable for a certain period of time? Will the homeowner be required to pay the “grant” back into an affordable housing fund when the homeowner sells the property so the amount can be used to assist other homeowners? Will the homeowner be required under the IRS Code or applicable regulations to pay income taxes on the amount of the grant, and will the homeowner be able to afford to do so? Will property taxes go up if a home is rehabbed, making it less affordable for the owner to live there?
For grants provided to landlords, will the landlord be required to keep rents affordable for a certain period of time, and if so affordable to whom – households at 30%, 40%, 50%, 60% or 80% of the AMI?
Sue Loellbach, Director of Advocacy for Connections for the Homeless and leader of Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, told the RoundTable if rents go up or property values and taxes go up, “There is a great risk of displacement for households with incomes at or below $50,000 a year.
Loellbach said she thought the provisions in Resolution 88-R-21 were good strategies “to increase the supply of affordable housing and preserving what is already there.” She added, though, “I don’t think it’s sufficient. I think that we’re going to need some subsidy programs, probably to help people stay there. If somebody is at 30% of the AMI, it’s really unlikely that they’ll be able to afford anything without having a subsidy.”
One problem in providing housing to low-income households is just the cost of constructing, maintaining and operating the housing.
“Honestly, most landlords can’t provide affordable housing for people with incomes under 50% of the AMI, just on their own,” Loellbach said. “There almost always has to be some other kind of subsidy or incentive. Just financially, it doesn’t work. They can’t cover their operations, if they’re charging rent that’s that low.”
She added, “I think it would be great if we could get more of the existing landlords to accept vouchers, because we have people who use Section 8 or housing choice vouchers. There are people all over the city that have vouchers, and they’re losing them because they haven’t been able to find a landlord that will take them.
Another issue, Loellbach said, is when long-time residents or their heirs are giving up their homes and selling them. “I think that’s where we have a real big risk because those homes will very often be either completely gutted and renovated at some cost, and the prices will go up, or they’ll just be completely replaced torn down and replaced with bigger and more expensive housing, probably not apartment buildings.” She said the city needs to figure out how to preserve affordable housing in these types of situations.
Loellbach discussed other concerns, but on a big-picture basis she said what the city needs to prevent displacement in census tract 8092 is to adopt a defined goal and a firm commitment to meet that goal. “I was watching a program the other day, and they were talking about displacement. And one of the ways they put it is that you can have investment and prevent displacement, if a good portion of that investment is in making sure those low-income people can stay there. And so, what it may be, is that part of the TIF Resolution and I don’t see it written in here yet, but part of the TIF Resolution for a city program needs to say, ‘Okay, we are going to measure who needs support, who has an income below a certain level in this area. And as part of our economic development opportunity, we want to protect those people. And whether it’s with some sort of guaranteed income, or housing subsidy or something, if they want to stay, then we will commit to helping them stay, financially.’ That’s the only way I can see it.
“I’ve grappled with this for years. As you invest in an area, it gets more expensive. That’s just how the market works. The folks that live there are not going to get jobs that pay more. So how can they stay there? … Well, you have to decide that you want them to stay there and help them to do that.
“And then, you have to figure out how to do it equitably. You’re investing in an area that has really some pretty intense poverty. What the city needs to do is to get the residents’ input on what they need and want in the community. Then, the people most likely to be displaced would at least have a voice in the decision-making process. So, this is all about community engagement, which we know is very difficult, particularly in communities that don’t have a lot of trust that things can get better.”
Another issue is the timing. “You can create all this affordable housing,” said Loellbach. “But if you don’t want to displace these people, you have to do something right now about that.”
Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss told the RoundTable, “If we do things that are sensible, reasonable, desirable, things to make the neighborhood more attractive, and then we don’t do anything else to address the affordability issue, that will raise prices, and potentially push people out. And that should be something that we’re trying to avoid. We should aspire to be affordable for everybody who wants to be here, and the people with the highest precedence in that effort are those who are already here. So, somebody who is living in Evanston and wants to stay in Evanston, it should be our goal to make that a possibility.”
Biss acknowledged that Resolution 88-R-21 does not contain a measurable goal in terms of preventing or limiting displacement and said, “That’s a really fair concern.” He added, “City Council has been involved in a goal-setting process. and we’ve named affordability as a top priority. The next step from that is to really establish concrete measurable goals because, frankly, the problem is so big and a lot of what you need to do to address it is so expensive, if you don’t have a concrete goal to hold yourself accountable to, there’s a good chance you won’t do enough.”
He added that another issue is, “We’ve talked, I think, very appropriately as a city about how the actions that we have taken over the course of several generations made it harder for Black families to accumulate wealth. And that’s an issue that we are appropriately belatedly trying to address. But if you view a home as a key wealth building tool, and then someone’s property value goes up because of countervailing steps the city takes, we don’t want to stop them from realizing those gains, if that’s their choice. But we want to be in a situation where that’s the choice of the resident, and it’s not a decision that’s imposed on them by economic circumstances beyond their control.”
When asked if the city should have a specific goal for the historic Black area of Evanston that makes clear that city has a goal to preserve housing affordable for households who earn $25,000 or less, Biss said, “Well, I mean, the simple answer is yes, in the sense that I do think that having the goal that people who are here and who want to stay can afford to stay is an important thing for us to set forth.”
He agreed it would also be helpful if the city developed a plan to achieve a goal of preserving housing affordable to households in the 30% AMI range, which was based on market conditions and demographics.
He said providing affordable housing for households who were earning $25,000 or less a year – about 30% of the AMI or less – typically requires more intensive programs, such as partnerships with the Housing Authority of Cook County, or tools that deploy federal resources to bring really significant subsidies to the table. “Things like this tend to be necessary to provide significant amounts of housing for households that are, let’s say, in the 30% of AMI range. So, we need to have an all-of-the- above approach, and I think we’re sort of making gestures in that direction, but I think there’s just obviously more than we’ve got to do.”
He added that “there is another side to this coin, which is that we should be aiming simultaneously to enact policies and programs that over time raise the wages and standard of living of the people who are most economically struggling in town.” He gave several examples of things the city had done or was doing in this regard, such as the city did not opt out of Cook County’s minimum wage ordinance, it passed a fair workweek policy, it has a guaranteed income pilot, it has a growing level of commitment to workforce development.
With this in mind, Biss said, “The goal should be to have the city remain affordable to everybody who wants to stay here, and, by the way, to do what we can to help lift people out of poverty.”
In addition to Resolution 88-R-21, Councilmember Burns told the RoundTable that the city is attempting to create or preserve affordable housing in two ways: by using the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance and by taking control of some properties.
The City’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, as amended, applies to housing developments containing five or more dwelling units.
In general, under the ordinance, 10% of the units in a new development containing five or more units must be affordable. If the units are for-sale, they must be affordable to households with incomes at or below 100% of the AMI. If the units are for rent, the apartments must be affordable to households with an income at or below 60% of the AMI.
If the developer is allowed to construct a building “as of right” (i.e., with no need to obtain any variance or approval from the city), the developer may pay a fee in lieu of providing any affordable units. A developer that needs to obtain a zoning variance or allowance must provide at least 5% of the affordable units on site and may pay a fee in lieu of the remaining 5%. The fee in lieu is $175,000 (plus an inflation factor) for developments in the downtown area and $150,000 (plus an inflation factor) for developments outside the downtown area. The fee in lieu payments are to be paid into an affordable housing fund.
Different rules apply to condominium developments.
It is unclear how much “affordable housing” this ordinance could realistically create in census tract 8092, and how it could provide affordable units for households whose income is at or below 30%, or 40%, or 50% of the AMI.
Biss said, “I think there’s no question that the inclusionary housing ordinance by itself is not going to generate enough units to address our affordability crisis, but it’s an important kind of part of the toolkit. But it’s just not the whole thing, partially because we’re a pretty built out community, so the volume of new development is not going to be enough to generate a high enough number of affordable units. And then, partially, because there’s different levels of affordability.”
The ordinance may create units affordable to households at or above 60% of the AMI, but not those in the range of 30%, 40% or 50%.
The Zuk study also cautions that some researchers have raised concerns that mixed-income housing, which is intended to benefit low-income households, may “displace people living in poverty rather than supporting their social mobility by catalyzing other upgrades and development.” The study also notes that some researchers say that certain mixed-income housing policies amount to “state-sponsored/catalyzed gentrification.” (Zuk, pp. 16, 23)
Another thing the city is doing to provide affordable housing is to identify developable sites and to gain control of those sites. Burns said the plan is to then ask developers to submit proposals to develop those sites with affordable housing or at least to develop the sites with 50% of the units being affordable, if it is a mixed-income development.
It is unclear if the affordable housing developed would be affordable to households at 30%, or 40% or 50% of the AMI, and it is unclear how many affordable housing units could be developed in the area using this approach.
In summary, there is no concrete measurable goal to prevent displacement of households at extremely low or very low income levels, and no plan on how to meet that goal.
3. Past housing developments
In the last 15 years, city staff has made significant efforts to develop affordable housing in census tract 8092, but the number of new affordable units developed is relatively small, and the number affordable to very low-income households with incomes below 60% of the AMI is negligible. Past history, though, suggests that the process to develop any significant amount of affordable housing in the area will be a steep climb.
NSP2 Federal Funding: After the Great Recession began in late 2007, the City of Evanston received about $20 million in federal funds, which it used to preserve and develop affordable housing in census tract 8092 as well as a census tract in south Evanston. There were two distinct projects.
First, the city purchased and rehabbed more than 50 foreclosed homes in census tract 8092. Policymap.com reported that foreclosures were filed on 18.75% of all mortgages in that census tract. The project was successful in preventing neighborhood deterioration by rehabbing many foreclosed homes and selling them to relatively low-and middle-income households.
The second project was the construction of Emerson Square, a new 32-unit residential complex in the block bounded by Jackson and Dewey avenues and Emerson and Foster streets. The units range in size between one and three bedrooms. The development transformed an old blighted industrial parcel into a mixed-income development and was completed in 2013. A photo of a portion of Emerson Square, taken by the RoundTable, is below.
Under HUD guidelines, this housing was required to be occupied by households with incomes at or below 120% of the AMI. And 25% percent of the funds had be spent on housing reserved for households at or below 50% percent of AMI. All units were required to be affordable, within these parameters, for at least 15 years.
Church Street Village: Another development, Church Street Village, is a private development that was approved by city council in February 2006. The development is located at the site of the former Hines’ lumber yard at 1613 Church St., and consists of three buildings containing 40 townhouses. Each townhouse has two or three bedrooms, approximately 1,800 and 2,200 square feet, respectively. The townhouses were priced to sell for between $360,000 and $420,000, which was more than double the median value of single-family homes in census tract 8092 in 2000, which was $151,000. (ACS). They were not affordable to the vast majority of households in the census tract.
One neighbor argued at a zoning hearing that the housing was for relatively high-income households and would cause property taxes in the area to increase and displace low-income people. A photo of some of the townhouses in Church Street Plaza, taken by a RoundTable photographer is below.
Jackson Avenue Homes. On June 27, 2022, city council authorized the purchase for $1.675 million of seven boarded up residential properties located at the northeast corner of Jackson Avenue and Emerson Street for $1.675 million. The purchase price was funded by $1 million from the city’s affordable housing fund, and $675,000 in funds from the West Evanston TIF fund. Council Member Burns said he would work with city staff to gather community input to develop the properties with up to 30 units of affordable housing.
This project will prevent neighborhood deterioration, and it could provide affordable housing. But whether it will provide affordable housing at rents or prices to prevent displacement of current resident is unclear. In addition, the project will likely improve the area and have an unintended effect of leading to higher rents, property values and taxes.
HODC Project: In April 2023, city council approved a new mixed-use affordable housing development containing 33 rental units at Church Street and Darrow Avenue, within census tract 8092. Rents will be set at $800 for the two-bedroom apartments, and $1,000 for the three-bedroom apartments. The project is being developed by Housing Opportunity Development Corp. (HODC), a non-profit organization. A sketch of the project presented to city council is below.
The rents are below the median monthly rent in the census tract, so the project may assist in mitigating the impact of displacement of moderate-income residents. Longtime real estate agent Bonnie Wilson supported the project. In April 2023, she said a household making less than $40,000 a year could afford to live in these units. Burns said the project was good for the Fifth Ward, pointing out that more affordable housing was needed in the ward, particularly because of the new school planned for the area.
Yet some residents of the area opposed the project, saying that other parts of Evanston should provide low-income housing and it should not be concentrated in the Fifth Ward.
As part of the project, there was a land swap, enabling a church to be built on the former site of a gas station that was vacant for many years and that posed an environmental hazard. The project could thus have a gentrifying effect.
Apartment Building on Jackson Avenue: On July 12, 2023, the city’s Land Use Commission approved a major zoning variation that will allow Temp Capital to construct a four-story, 24-unit apartment building at 2017 Jackson Ave. According to the application, there will be six one-bedroom units, with monthly rent at market rates of between $1,200 and $1,450 per month. There will be 18 two-bedroom units, 16 of which will be leased at market rates of between $1,800 and $2,500 per month. Two of the two-bedroom units will be affordable to families at 60% of the AMI, and leased at $1,309 per month. A sketch of the project presented to city council is below.
C&W Market: In 2013, city council approved giving $560,000 in funds from the West Evanston TIF to the owners of the business C&W Market, 1902 Church St., to assist in the purchase and renovation of property they are currently using and to add six affordable apartments there.
Other projects have improved housing in census tract 8092. Evanston Township High School has constructed one home each year since the 2013-14 school year, as part of a geometry-in-construction class; most of these homes have been placed on lots in census tract 8092. In addition, many homeowners have rehabbed their homes, by installing new siding or roofs, or making other repairs.
E. HOUSING TRENDS IN EVANSTON
Housing in census tract 8092 is impacted by housing trends in the city as a whole. Evanston is a desirable town and affordable housing in the city has declined significantly in the last 25 years. So people desiring to move into Evanston may be more inclined to look at areas of the city where housing costs are relatively low.
The median home value and the median rent in census tract 8092 is significantly lower than the median citywide. That makes the historic Black area of the city an attractive entry point for households who want to move into the city with a lower housing cost.
Despite the construction of thousands of new housing units in Evanston in the last 25 years, the city is facing a shortage of affordable housing. “There is insufficient affordable housing to meet the needs of low- and moderate-income people currently living in Evanston,” says the City’s 2020-2024 Consolidated Plan (the “2020 Plan”).
According to reports published by the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), Evanston had a total of 7,730 housing units that were affordable in 2000, and the number dropped to 5,993 in 2018, a loss of 2,737 affordable units. Articles reporting on this are here and here.
IHDA measures affordability in terms of what a household whose income is 60% of the area median household income (AMHI) can afford to pay toward rent, and what a household whose income is 80% of the AMHI can afford to pay to purchase and maintain a home.
The city sums up the problem in its 2020 Plan: “Evanston has an ample supply of housing for those who are not low or moderate income. The significant increase in luxury and market rate units in the downtown and along transit corridors provides multiple options for higher income renters and homeowners. However, the increase in higher priced rental and owner properties coincided with a steep decline in the number of affordable units for low- and moderate-income residents.
“The high cost of housing in Evanston and the Chicago area continues to be a barrier to securing stable housing for many low- and moderate-income residents.”
While preserving affordable housing has been on the city’s radar, it may be difficult to overcome the market forces that are a driving factor. Evanston is an attractive community, and many people seek to live in the city. That demand may continue to drive up rents and housing prices and make housing less affordable for people who wish to move to the city.
In addition, higher rents and property taxes are impacting current residents. “The escalation of rents and property taxes contribute to the growing housing cost burden and is pricing long-term residents, particularly seniors, out of Evanston and making it difficult for many young families, including those who work in Evanston, to locate here,” says the 2020 Plan.
The city has taken many creative steps to create more affordable housing units. But the city’s efforts and successes are a drop in the bucket compared to the need. The ity recognizes this. Its 2020 Plan gives a stark assessment of the future: “Housing affordability is expected to diminish in Evanston based on continuing increases in both property values and rents and no foreseeable decline in the immediate future or longer term. Evanston’s low- and moderate-income population will continue to be priced out of their community as home prices and rental rates rise. Long-time homeowners living on fixed incomes, primarily seniors, are increasingly at risk of displacement because they can no longer afford to pay rising property taxes, utilities and afford to maintain their homes.”
The city’s 2023 Action Plan, dated March 17, 2023 says, “COVID-19 has heightened the need for affordable housing, as it has particularly impacted lower-income residents.”
Because housing prices and rents are lower in census tract 8092 than most other parts of the city, people interested in moving into Evanston may be drawn to census tract 8092, particularly if the area is revitalized through the investment of TIF funds and the new school is constructed there.
An influx of new people into the area may contribute to driving up rents and housing values and to the displacement of current residents.
Council Member Burns told the RoundTable in July, “No matter where the land is in Evanston, you’ll find somebody that wants to develop it. … On average, people want to live everywhere in Evanston, and I think that’s what’s going to continue to drive up costs, which is why it’s important for the city to not sit idly by and watch it unfold, but to take action.”
Burns added that it has become increasingly difficult for non-profits to develop affordable housing because it costs about $300,000 to $500,000 to build an affordable unit. He said the only other party that has an interest and the funding to do something is the city. “I think it’s incumbent on us to do something about it.”
 Between 1900 and 1940, Black people in Evanston were systematically segregated into an area of Evanston essentially bounded by the North Channel on the north and west, the Metra tracks on the east, and Church Street on the south. In 1900, almost no Black people lived in the area. By 1940, 95% of the people who lived in this area were Black. It remained that way through 1990. For more on this see Developing a Segregated Town, 1900 -1960, https://evanstonroundtable.com/2019/12/05/developing-a-segregated-town-1900-1960/
 The Black community in the Fifth Ward was historically served by Foster school, which was an all Black school since the 1940s. In the 1960s, the District 65 School Board decided to desegregate all of the District’s schools. In 1967, as part of a school desegregation plan, Foster School was closed as an attendance-area school and converted into a magnet school. Most of the Black students who attended Foster were then bused to white schools in the District to desegregate those schools; some Black students, however, remained at Foster. Foster was converted into a magnet school – a carrot – to draw white students to the school and desegregate it. This arrangement lasted until 1979, when Foster school was closed altogether. A total of seven of the District’s schools were closed in the late 1970s as part of a school closing plan due to declining student enrollment. Since that time Black students in the old Foster school area have continued to be bused to other schools. Many people have argued for decades that a school should be restored to the Fifth Ward. For more on this, see The Role of Foster School in the Implementation of School District 65’s Desegregation Plan in 1967 and Its Closing in 1979, https://evanstonroundtable.com/2019/03/21/the-role-of-foster-school-in-the-implementation-of-school-district-65s-desegregation-plan-in-1967-and-its-closing-in-1979/
 For purposes of NCRC’s 2019 report , no census tract in Evanston is listed as gentrifying, but that was based on strict tests of gentrification and displacement used for purposes of its study. For its study, “neighborhoods were considered to be eligible to gentrify if in 2000 they were in the lower 40% of home values and family incomes in that metropolitan area.” NCRC notes that the study “cannot capture the full-lived reality of residents in gentrifying neighborhoods.” In some respects, the issue is not whether census tract 8092 is gentrifying, but rather public and private investments in the area will lead to higher rents, property values and property taxes and in turn lead to displacement of current residents.
 This article cites the five-year averages of the American Community Survey, which are regarded as more accurate than the one-year data. For example, in reporting 2021 data, the data is the average of 2017 through 2021. When the 2021 ACS reports a five-year average in dollars, the dollars for 2017 to 2020 are adjusted for inflation to the year 2021. The ACS has a fairly high error rate, which is reported as part of the survey.
 It is possible that some of the households in census tract 8092 were college students in 2021 and they may be included in the number of households earning below the poverty line and/or below $25,000. According to the 2021 ACS, in census tract 8092, there were a total of 48 households in which the householder was under 25 years old; 35 of those households had income less than $10,000. These households account for 3.0% of the total households in census tract 8092. While some of the households who earned less than $25,000 may have been college students, it would appear to be a relatively low number.
In 2021, an individual was considered below the poverty line if their income was below $12,880. A household of four was viewed as being below the poverty line if their household income was below $26,500.
 According to an April 2023 rent report from Erin Giddens, a representative of apartmentslist.com, median rents in Evanston were $1,683 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,971 for a two-bedroom. The Cook County Assessor’s Office reported on Aug. 8, 2022, that rent for large multi-family apartment buildings in Evanston ranges from approximately $1,275 to $3,300. She said, “Rents in Evanston are up by 19.7% since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.”
With respect to the value of single-family homes, the Cook County Assessor’s office released its initial assessments of residential properties in Evanston Township on Aug. 8, 2022. The Assessor’s office determined that the 2021 median value for single-family homes in Evanston Township was $540,000. For Evanston Assessment Area 060, (whose boundaries are similar to census tract 8092), there were a total of 754 single-family homes, with a median value of $270,000, or 50% of the value citywide.
 The amended zoning code also added a “West Evanston Transitional District,” which is intended to allow the continued operation and expansion of existing light manufacturing, light industrial, and commercial uses in accordance with the Master Plan and in accordance with the Tax Increment Redevelopment Plan and Project for the West Evanston Tax Increment Financing District, adopted by the City in 2005 and amended in 2008 (the “2005 West End TIF”).
 On March 13, 2023, City Council approved construction of a new skatepark in Twiggs Park, just south of the North Shore Channel and just west of Green Bay Road. The skatepark will have a new 10,000-square-foot, custom cast-in-place concrete skating facility. It will include features such as expansive skating surfaces and obstacles, pathways, seat walls, security lighting, drainage facilities, site furniture, a shade structure, fencing, new landscaping, and other related amenities. The total cost is about $1.75 million.
 There are many possible programs that may be used to provide affordable housing and to attempt to limit displacement. One key strategy to prevent displacement, NCRC says, is to preserve affordable housing for lower-income tenants in gentrifying areas for an extended period of time, ranging from 20 to 30 years. NCRC lists nine possible ways to do this, including encouraging banks to partner with local community organizations to develop housing for low- or moderate- income households; exploring whether low-income housing tax credits are available; and using limited equity co-ops and community land trusts. (NCRC, 9-13).
NLIHC says, “There is also not a silver bullet or list of sure-thing policies to prevent displacement, but the following are some of many tools that can help combat gentrification. They include baseline protections for the most vulnerable residents, producing and preserving affordable homes, non-market-based approaches to housing and community development, and approaches to community participation.” (NLIHC, p. 3)
Ellen says, “There are no easy answers,” to limit displacement, “but one relatively simple, if potentially expensive response is to preserve the substantial stock of affordable housing that already exists in gentrifying areas.” She says, “Local policymakers can also try to entice owners of market-rate rental housing in gentrifying areas to keep rents affordable for some share of their units” by offering various incentives; or “cities might try to acquire and build new subsidized housing in gentrifying areas,” which she notes can also be expensive; or cities can “work with local community groups to help low- and moderate-income residents make the most of any growing opportunities arising in gentrifying neighborhoods.” (Ellen, pp. 3-5)
The Zuk study notes that a number of studies found that “government intervention on the housing market through rent stabilization and housing programs are protective factors limiting the displacement effects of gentrification.”
Ellen, Ingrid Gould, “Can Gentrification Be Inclusive?” 2017, Published by Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University
Hwang, Jackelyn and Lin, Jeffrey, “What Have We Learned About the Causes of Recent Gentrification?”, Research Department Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, 2016, Working Paper No. 16-20
Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University, “Mapping Displacement Pressure in Chicago, 2021,” February 23, 2022 , https://www.housingstudies.org/releases/mapping-displacement-pressure-chicago-2021/
Institute for Housing Studies at Depaul University, “Exploring the Impacts of Rising Property Taxes in Changing Neighborhoods,” Jan. 27, 2023.
“Gentrification and the Property Tax: How Circuit Breakers Can Help” in the Institute on taxation and economic policy, April 2021.
Mallach, Alan, “, “Managing Neighborhood Change, A Framework for Sustainable and Equitable Revitalizatiohttp://neighbourhoodchange.ca/wp-content/uploads//2011/07/Mallach-2008-Managing-Neighborhood-Change-NHI-Report-1.pdfn,”,” Prepared for the National Housing Institute, 2008.
National Low Income Housing Coalition, “Gentrification and Neighborhood Revitalization: What’s the Difference?” 2019
National Community Reinvestment Coalition, “The Community Reinvestment Act: How CRA Can Promote Integration and Prevent Displacement in Gentrifying Neighborhoods,” 2016
National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Richardson, Jason, et al, “Shifting Neighborhoods: Gentrification and cultural displacement in American cities,”, 2019
U.S. Census Bureau (2021). American Community Survey 5-year estimates. Retrieved from Census Reporter Profile page for Census Tract 8092, Cook, IL http://censusreporter.org/profiles/14000US17031809200-census-tract-8092-cook-il/
Zuk, Miriam, et al, “Gentrification, Displacement and the Role of Public Investment: A Literature Review,” published by the Community Development department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, 2015, Working Paper,