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Planning for People, Not Buildings: Homes for a Changing Region

Look at housing in a suburban community, and you can see how people are living now—often in single-family homes, sometimes in apartments or condominiums, and occasionally in senior living or assisted living communities. What you can’t see is what the future residents and housing stock in a community will look like.

Creating that forecast is the focus of Homes for a Changing Region, a project that encourages forward-looking, community-based planning based on projected demographic and economic changes in a community to determine what kind of housing will be needed there in the future.

The project is especially timely: Communities that were hit hardest by the recession in the last decade often had many homeowners impacted by foreclosure. To compound that challenge, many communities have had to focus on short-term needs during a tough economy.

“It’s really a market-based approach,” says MPC Senior Advisor Nancy Firfer, whose experience includes serving as mayor of Glenview. “We look at age, income and household size, and see what people can afford.”

The Homes project started at Chicago Metropolis 2020 in 2005 and anticipated the housing market crisis of 2008. Now, Homes for a Changing Region is a partnership between the Metropolitan Planning Council, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).

The project’s unofficial motto is “People, Not Buildings.” Homes for a Changing Region is not focused on the latest real estate push in area communities, but a thoughtful way for communities to map out—and ultimately realize—the best strategies for accommodating their current and future populations’ housing needs.

“We had miles and miles of single-family homes in our community. But we didn't have enough apartments for people over 55. [Homes] opened our eyes and made us aware so we could influence future development.”

—Gurnee, Ill., Mayor Krysti Kovarik

By the end of this year, Homes for a Changing Region will have completed 46 housing policy plans for area communities. One place that exemplifies how the project has worked is the community of Gurnee, Ill., in Lake County. Research and a report about the community produced by the Homes team showed that there was a major deficit in senior housing in Gurnee.

“We had miles and miles of single-family homes in our community,” says Krysti Kovarik, mayor of Gurnee. “But we didn’t have enough apartments for people over 55. The report opened our eyes and made us aware so we could influence future development. Having that report gave us a supporting document to stand firm on what we did and didn’t want.”

Kovarik says that research and data from the community’s Homes report was especially useful. “It took our latest Census information and extrapolated that out, to help us look to the future and predict what the population will look like,” she says.

The result, Kovarik says, is something you can see: newly developed independent senior apartments, a supportive living facility and a “memory care” facility that is currently under construction, plus more senior housing on the way.

Joe Wade, Village Manager of Carpentersville in Kane County, says the Homes research and report “are something we would not have been able to do ourselves. The expertise, resources and time involved all made a difference to us.” For example, Wade says, research for the project helped the village update zoning amendments. Customized data analysis also pointed to the potential for collaboration between Carpentersville and neighboring communities, including Elgin and East and West Dundee.

These days, Homes for a Changing Region—and the data that helps communities understand their housing stock and plan for the future—is more accessible than ever. Through a grant made in 2014 by the state’s Attorney General, the project is now available online. The online toolkit includes a link to an instructional webinar about the project, a process guide, a data analysis guide and model, and other materials.

Drew Williams-Clark, principal planner for CMAP, foresees great potential for Homes in the coming years. “At the root of this project is a planning process with good analytical outreach and policy tools,” he says. “I think it can work anywhere.”

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For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area's toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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