A missed opportunity in Lake County - Metropolitan Planning Council

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A missed opportunity in Lake County

The Lake County Board resolved not to move forward with a proposal requiring all new residential developments of 10 or more units to include 10 percent affordable units.

The decision by a joint committee of the Lake County Board on Feb. 5 to turn aside a novel "inclusionary zoning" proposal is a setback in the regionwide effort to bring reasonably priced housing closer to suburban job centers.

But the problems bred by the Chicago region's widening worker/housing disconnect are not going away. And those problemsranging from chronic traffic congestion to high employee turnoverinevitably will require attention not just by Lake County, but by all the area's faster-growing suburbs and collar counties.      

Some history is in order.  

When the Lake County Board passed its Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) last spring to guide development in uncincorporated areas, it set a placeholder for an affordable housing policy and agreed to revisit the issue.  Since then, the Board has considered density bonuses, transit-oriented development and inclusionary zoning as ways of encouraging affordable housing. 

The current proposal was of the inclusionary zoning type. The proposed UDO amendment would have required new developments of 10 units or more to include 10 percent affordable units. That hardly means low-income housing, because affordable was defined as within financial reach of a family earning the median annual income for the Chicago area, or about $60,000 for a family of four.

Though it would have been rare for Illinois, inclusionary zoning is an approach that has been used successfully in sites across the United States.  One widely recognized example is Montgomery County, Md., where an inclusionary zoning ordinance which has been in use since 1974 has led to 10,000 new units of affordable housing. 

Several recent studies around the country have shown that inclusion of affordable units, such as townhouses which can sell for as low as $100,000, have not affected property values of nearby market-rate units selling for $300,000 and up.

Several Board members who voted against the amendment said it wouldn't have much effect one way or the other because the vast majority of new housing is built within municipalities. But proponents of a more varied suburban housing marketincluding the Metropolitan Planning Councilhave argued that the county's UDO was also supposed to set an example for those municipalities, and, at minimum, ensure that developers would not treat unincorporated areas as "anything goes" zones. 

As for the Lake County's housing situation, a recent study by Residential Planning Corporation, a real estate market analyst, found a current and projected unmet demand for affordable housing there.  That echoes conclusions of MPC's Regional Rental Market Analysis, which found an insufficient supply of rental housing in Lake County:  The county's 4.3 percent rental vacancy rate represents a tight market; HUD recommends a six percent vacancy rate for a healthy market.  In addition, while the population of Lake County grew by 100,000 in the 1990s and 45,700 new jobs were created, only 5,000 new apartments were added to the housing stock.  The study also found that the average apartment rents for $774, out of reach for entry-level workers.  This leads to commutes of up to 90 minutes each way, exacerbating local traffic congestion.   (For more detail, look at RRMA Key Findings: Lake County.)

And yet, at the Feb. 5 joint meeting of the Planning, Building and Zoning Committee and the Community and Economic Development Committee, several Board members declared they had spent too much time debating the subject and whether such an ordinance would have any impact.  They noted that affordable housing is not a priority of the board and directed staff to focus on other matters.



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