Evanston Review: Evanston to get $18 million to address foreclosures

Evanston Review: Evanston to get $18 million to address foreclosures
January 14, 2010
By Bob Seidenberg

Evanston city officials were elated today after receiving word that the city would receive $18 million from a requested $40 million to address foreclosures and high vacancies in two parts of the community.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl received the news of the federal grant this morning, in calls from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-9th.

"I'm so excited. This is going to be so good for the city," reacted Tisdahl who, along with City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, made a special trip to Washington late last year to lobby legislators.

"This means what we love most about our city, the diversity of the people, will continue," she said. The city filed a detailed application form last July with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to receive funds through the federal stimulus program called the Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2.

The requested funds were to be used in targeted areas across two census tracts -- on the city's west and south sides -- that have been identified as areas of high foreclosure and vacancies.
Evanston has one of the highest number of foreclosed properties in the north suburban area. The city had 267 foreclosure filings in 2008, and saw a 178 percent rise between 2005 and 2008, according to one survey.
The city competed for funds with communities across the country for an estimated $2 billion in federal funds.

"My heart is jumping for joy," reacted Delores Holmes, alderman in the city's Fifth Ward, which contains one of the census tracts. "I think once we begin to purchase vacant and foreclosed homes and get them back in use, that's going to make all the difference in the world for the community.'"

The city's application sought $5 million to acquire a privately owned parking lot and an industrial building near Emerson and Jackson, in Holmes' west side ward.

Some $14.2 million of the stimulus dollars were to be leveraged with private funds and other sources to create a neighborhood consisting of eight homes and six condominiums that would be sold to buyers; another 86 rental units, would be created, mostly for people making 60 percent or less than the median area income.

A second component of the original application called for the city and Brinshore Development -- a for-profit affordable housing developer that teamed up with the city on the proposal --to use $16.9 million of the funds to acquire and rehabilitate foreclosed properties that have been repossessed by lenders.

In the Eighth Ward, on Evanston's south side, funds will address foreclosures in an area just north of Howard Street and south of Oakton, and running from Asbury on the west to the rail tracks on the east.

Alderman Ann Rainey, in whose ward that census tract is located, called the news "absolutely the best thing that could happen to us at this time."

"It will resolve, I believe, close to all of the foreclosure problems in that area," she said Thursday.

"It's going to make a huge difference. It's going to make a lot of the condo associations whole again, who are supporting vacant units. We'll be able to buy those units, and none of them will be rented; we are proposing that they be sold."

Under then interim City Manager Rolanda Russell, city staff, working together with Brinshore, aldermen, housing advocates and others developed the extremely detailed application that officials believe was a factor in winning the funding.

Tisdahl and city Manager Wally Bobkiewicz went to Washington this fall, meeting with Durbin, Schakowsky, and Sen. Roland Burris, stressing the city's needs for the funds.

Schakowsky released a statement Thursday, saying she was "extremely pleased," that HUD "has recognized the need in Illinois for assistance in dealing with foreclosed homes and rebuilding our communities."

Evanston officials were waiting to hear more details of the proposal. They aren't ready to start thinking about how the lower request amount will be apportioned, said Tisdahl. "We will spend the money wisely," she said. "Today it's just about celebrating."

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