After a successful pilot that turned two blighted single-family homes into affordable housing units, the approved at its May 7 meeting the addition of three more homes for residents and local employees who could not afford to stay in Lake Forest.
“I’m very proud that Lake Forest has moved forward on this,” said Tom Morsch, a member of the Lake Forest housing trust and former alderman. “I’m proud that the City Council has continued to support efforts in this sphere going forward.”
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The council voted to devote $225,000 to purchasing the homes, continuing its partnership with the Highland Park-based nonprofit Community Partners for Affordable Housing. Affordable Housing Advisory Board Chairman Michael Burns said the second proposal met with much less resistance than the first.
“We didn’t have a track record,” he said. “We were taking a leap of faith. I think now that we’ve got a couple houses that were completed and we attracted people, we’ve overcome some of the reluctance.”
Finding Homes Requires Patience
Amy Kaufman, director of community relations for Community Partners, said she hopes to have two of the three homes purchased within the next 12 months, but that finding housing that works in Lake Forest is challenging.
“In a community where there’s more diverse housing stock to begin with, it’s easier,” Kaufman said. “But if you’re patient you find things. The two properties that we got were definitely worth waiting for. They’re wonderful.”
Kaufman said her organization looks for homes on the open market like any other buyer, but that Community Partners isn’t afraid to purchase properties in need of serious fixing up.
“We can give it the kind of rehab that we feel very confident about,” Kaufman said. “We’re looking for something that can serve a family well that we can turn into a sustainable long-term property.”
Once the organization has purchased a property, Community Partners works on updating it. It can add new appliances and green-friendly improvements, so that the family that moves in won’t have to worry as much about maintenance or energy expenses.
The organization has a group of devoted volunteers who work on painting, landscaping and gardening at . Community Partners also occasionally attracts corporate sponsors, like , which helped with the home on McKinley Road.
“It saves us an enormous amount of resources and it shows people what we do,” Kaufman said. “Some of these things wouldn’t have gotten done at all because we couldn’t afford to do it. It really improves the home.”
Support Has Increased
The improvements are especially valuable since the homes that the organizations purchase will continue to be affordable housing even if their current owners move out.
“It’s a wonderful experience to know that you’re going to help this low-income family and another low-income family after that,” Kaufman said.
The rehabs also have helped build support for the program.
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“I went to the open house at McKinley and the neighbors were very happy that an investment had been made and a family was moving in,” Morsch said. “They had taken a property that was in disrepair and improved it, and it was now viewed as an asset to the community and the neighborhood.”
Morsch said he believes that the concern over adding affordable housing in Lake Forest has largely evaporated.
“I think it’s been widely accepted,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing but very positive statements.”