PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday June 2nd, 2015, 7:30pm

Few Illinois Municipalities Meet State Deadline For Submitting Affordable Housing Plans

Progress Illinois details which Illinois municipalities have thus far met the state's Tuesday deadline to submit plans designed to address affordable housing shortages. 

Dozens of Illinois municipalities with affordable housing shortages are required to submit plans aimed at addressing the issue to the state by Tuesday, but many communities have thus far failed to meet the deadline.

The state law under which the plans are required is the Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act, or AHPAA, which took effect in 2004.

AHPAA encourages counties and municipalities in which less than 10 percent of the housing stock is deemed affordable to "assist in providing affordable housing opportunities to assure the health, safety, and welfare of all citizens of the state."

The measure also mandates that the State Housing Appeals Board hear appeals from affordable housing builders who say they were mistreated by local governments required to comply with AHPAA during the development approval process.

Under the law, the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) is responsible for identifying non-exempt communities in which less than 10 percent of the housing stock is affordable to homeowners at 80 percent and renters at 60 percent of the regional median household income.

IHDA issued an initial list of 48 non-exempt communities in 2004 and updated it in 2013 following the availability of new U.S. Census Bureau data.

For its 2013 list, IHDA identified 68 non-exempt Illinois municipalities. IHDA determined which communities were non-exempt based on figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey, covering five years of data.

Of the 68 municipalities, IHDA found Kenilworth, one of the wealthiest towns in America, and the village of Wayne to have the lowest share of affordable housing. In both communities, affordable housing represented .5 percent of the housing stock. Two communities on the list, Elburn and New Lenox, both had a 9.7 percent share of affordable housing, the highest figure among the 68 communities.

The 68 communities -- which span Boone, Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties -- were notified of their non-exempt status on December 2, 2013 and have had 18 months to develop, approve and submit a new or updated affordable housing plan to the IHDA. Plans were due by the end of business on Tuesday.

According to the IHDA, only 20 communities submitted their plans as of Tuesday afternoon. They include: Algonquin, Barrington, Burr Ridge, Deer Park, Elburn, Fox River Grove, Frankfort, Geneva, Glencoe, Glenview, Kenilworth, Lake Barrington, New Lenox, Oakwood Hills, Olympia Fields, Oswego, Palos Park, Port Barrington, Spring Grove and Wadsworth.

Of the remaining 48 communities, six had informed IHDA of their intentions to submit a plan by the close of business Tuesday, including Bull Valley, Cary, Highland Park, Pingree Grove, Prairie Grove and Sugar Grove. Another seven municipalities have sent letters to the IHDA saying that they will not be submitting affordable housing plans on the grounds that they are Home Rule communities. Under the 1970 state Constitution, Home Rule status takes decision-making power from the state, moving it to the municipality. Towns with populations over 25,000 are automatically Home Rule communities. Smaller towns can put an initiative on voter ballots as a means to achieve Home Rule status.

The plans due to IHDA have to identify land and existing structures within the respective jurisdiction that is most appropriate for affordable housing construction, rehabilitation or conversion as well as government-provided incentives, such as tax increment financing (TIF) funds, that can be used to attract local affordable housing development. A non-exempt municipality also has to set a goal of having either at least 15 percent of all new housing development or redevelopment designated as affordable; getting its total housing stock to be at least 10 percent affordable; or increasing the community's overall affordable housing stock by a minimum of 3 percentage points. 

Communities do not have a deadline to meet such goals.

"The law recognizes the value and importance of affordable housing and encourages municipalities to do an appropriate plan, and in good faith, take action to achieve the goals it outlines in their plan," IHDA spokeswoman Cami Freeman said in an email. "Compliance monitoring is maintained locally. While there is no deadline to meet goals, the non-exempt local government list will be recalculated and provided every five years to track progress."

In terms of negative consequences, not much will happen to non-exempt municipalities if they fail to submit an affordable housing plan.

"The statute provides no direct authority to IHDA to take any noncompliance action," Freeman said.

Gail Schechter, a State Housing Appeals Board member and executive director of Open Communities, a Winnetka-based non-profit advocating for fair and affordable housing in 16 northern Chicago suburbs, explained why the law has no teeth. 

"It was a product of a tremendous amount of compromise. In earlier versions, it did have teeth to it," Schechter said of the measure. "So it became much more of a planning statute, rather than a units-creation statute, and became one that was much more about encouragement rather than mandates."

During the appeals process, however, Schechter said the State Housing Appeals Board may be more likely to side with a developer, for example, who was denied an affordable housing project permit in a non-exempt community if that municipality did not submit a plan.

Schechter -- whose group is calling on all non-exempt Illinois communities to submit a plan and also to "follow the spirit of the act" by ensuring all new multi-family developments have units set aside as affordable -- describes AHPAA as being more of a "developer-driven" law.

"It is really a law intended to both provide affirmative incentives for developers -- for example tax credits for developers wanting to do affordable housing in these non-exempt communities -- but also that if they have a problem, they have a place to go in terms of the state if they feel like they're being thwarted."

However, due to recent amendments to AHPAA, developers cannot appeal to the State Housing Appeals Board until five years after a local government has been notified of its non-exempt status for the first time. 

So why should non-exempt communities submit affordable housing plans?

"It behooves non-exempt communities to submit plans, as the SHAB shall dismiss any appeal if the local government has adopted an affordable housing plan and submitted that plan to IHDA within the time frame required; and the local government has implemented its affordable housing plan and has met its goal as established in its affordable housing plan," Freeman said. "Conversely, developer appeals in non-exempt communities which have not submitted a plan or have not demonstrated any progress will be judged on the merit of each individual case which could result in a reversal of the local communities decision."

Although the law does not require that non-exempt communities meet goals to address their local housing affordability gap, Schechter said it has sparked what had been rare affordable housing discussions among several more affluent communities in Illinois, like Kenilworth.

The North Shore community, which has been deemed non-exempt in both 2004 and 2013, met the June 2 deadline to submit an updated plan.

Kenilworth's updated affordable housing plan, approved by the village board in March, identified two targets it is willing to work toward reaching, either having 15 percent of all new development or redevelopment be affordable or increasing affordable housing units by 3 percentage points.

Kenilworth Village Manager Patrick Brennan said the municipality recognizes the "importance of affordable housing." While the act is not a mandate, Brennan said it is helpful in keeping housing affordability issues on the radar of local governments.

Brennan acknowledged that AHPAA's targets are difficult for Kenilworth to meet, noting that the village has a population of about 2,500 and a total land area within its corporate limits of only six-tenths of a square mile.

But "that's part of goals," Brennan said. "Make it something you can stretch" toward.

Additional goals are listed in Kenilworth's plan, including exploring potential state and federal funding sources available "to assist the Village and affordable housing developers in developing affordable housing in the village." Another goal of Kenilworth's is to hold a meeting with "non-profit affordable housing agencies and groups to discuss issues relating to affordable housing, including potential incentives."

Kenilworth has also taken several steps toward the goals of its initial plan from 2005, including appointing a committee to study affordable housing issues and adopting a comprehensive village plan that "recognizes that the Green Bay Road Corridor ... as an important part in creating the opportunity of multi-family and affordable housing."

Brennan said the village of Kenilworth would like to see affordable housing included as part of future potential development of the Green Bay Road Corridor. 

Schechter said she's encouraged by Kenilworth's attention to the issue.

"[Kenilworth] looked at their housing stock. They looked at where there's potential," Schechter said. "That's significant. They're looking at it, and it means that a developer who sees that these communities have done an affordable plan ... they might be more inclined to consider doing affordable housing in these communities."

Overall, Schechter said non-exempt communities currently appear more receptive to affordable housing issues compared to a decade ago. She said this is likely due to the law but also because communities witnessed local impacts of the foreclosure crisis.

"They may not actively promote (affordable housing), but what I'm seeing is they're less out there opposing it," she said. "But they're passive. They're going to wait for developers, and for people in the community, to come to them clamoring for some affordable and accessible units."

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