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St. Charles: A regional leader on housing

On Monday, February 6, the St. Charles City Council appointed seven commissioners to their new Housing Commission, established in October of 2005. The St. Charles Housing Commission is charged with implementing policies that will increase the supply of quality homes affordable to a variety of income levels and that meet the city’s Housing Endorsement Criteria . The City's decision to create a commission focused on housing was not unexpected. Instead, it was a result of over three years of thoughtful, deliberate efforts, led by two strong mayors, Sue Klinkhamer and current Mayor Donald DeWitte, an engaged city council, and dedicated city staff.

This new housing commission will be responsible for advancing key housing policies that will preserve and improve the existing affordable housing stock, leverage the private market to create new affordable homes and, research and tap resources at the local, state and federal levels.

In 2002, the City Council adopted the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Housing Endorsement Criteria, designed to promote well-built, well-designed homes near jobs and transportation and priced to meet the needs of various income levels. In 2003, the city created a small employer-assisted housing program that provides down payment assistance to municipal employees and thereby demonstrating regional leadership on this issue to other municipalities and local employers.

In 2004, the City of St. Charles formed a partnership with the Metropolitan Planning Council to assist with the development and implementation of a housing action plan . This partnership spurred the formation of the MPC St. Charles Housing Task Force, which has provided technical assistance and expertise to this process. Members of the task force have backgrounds in finance, development, housing law, community outreach, and urban planning.

In June of 2005, the MPC St. Charles Housing Task Force presented the city with supply and demand research findings on the city’s existing housing market, which demonstrated that although the city is not yet facing a housing crisis, if prices continue to outpace incomes (by 10 percent annually versus just three percent), homes will soon be out of reach for many workers and families in the city. As a result, the Task Force developed a number of policy options that were presented to the St. Charles Planning and Development Committee in August of 2005.

Of the over 25 options presented, some of the most well received were codifying an inclusionary housing ordinance, establishing a housing trust fund, expanding the city’s employer-assisted housing program and, creating a housing commission to provide a sustainable mechanism by which the city can manage its housing policies and programs.

The city’s Planning and Development Committee was extremely receptive to the information the Task Force presented and were eager to establish the housing commission in order to begin implementing some of the task force’s recommendations. The seven-member St. Charles Housing Commission is  comprised of one city council member, one plan commission member, and five members who either reside, work, or own a property or business in St. Charles. The new appointees have backgrounds in real estate development, finance, plannig, affordable housing, and education.  According to Mayor DeWitte, the creation of this Housing Commission “is only a first step.” But, for the city to meet its overall goal of promoting sound housing policy, this is an exciting first step, providing an effective public forum for discussing key housing issues and developing appropriate responses that address the city’s unique needs.

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