This Year's "A Taste of Evanston," Lighthouse Rotary Club Tackles homelessness.
When: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday, July 14 (rain or shine)
Where: On the east lawn of the magnificent Charles Gates Dawes House, home of the Evanston History Center.
What: A Taste of Evanston features delicious appetizers, entrees, drinks, and desserts from 40 of Evanston's trendiest restaurants, local breweries and wine shops.
Tickets: Limited to first 500 guests. Purchase them here.
Benefits: Connections for the Homeless and Reba Place Development Corporation.
Evanston prides itself on its compassion, diversity and depth of services to help those in need. Yet, while efforts have been underway to address housing insecurity, things are only getting worse.
-- Did you know that 28 percent of Evanston’s population pays more than 30 percent of their income on housing?
-- The vast majority of those households are very low-income (30 percent to 50 percent of the average median income) and extremely low-income (under 30 percent of average median income).
-- Housing solutions that are focused on households at 100 percent and 80 percent of the Area Median Income do NOT meet the real need.
-- We need more housing that is affordable for households that are earning less that $40,000 a year, and the critical need for affordable housing in Evanston has grown. Reba Place Development Corp. estimates that 6,000 affordable housing units are currently needed in Evanston!
-- Many of the families affected by the lack of affordable housing contribute to the diversity of our community. A large percentage of those with rent burden are African American or Latinx.
-- Evanston's Black population has seen the largest impact of displacement, with population totals decreasing from 22.5 percent of the local population to just 16.6 percent, based on 2016 data from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning( CMAP).
-- What are the options for those who are rent burdened?
They can move out of Evanston to a less expensive community; become homeless; or stay in a place they cannot afford and do without other necessities.
-- Affordable housing is key to:
Maintaining the diversity that Evanston claims it values; relieving the stress caused in the community by rent-burden; increasing the effectiveness of the many social services programs that are working to decrease youth violence, the achievement gap, domestic violence, family stress, and poverty.
Last Sunday, I sat down in a beautiful Reba Place affordable-housing unit--a two-bedroom that rents for $900/month--with award-winning Chicago Sun-Times urban affairs reporter and Evanston resident Maudlyne Ihejirika to talk about why she agreed to serve as emcee for this year's Taste of Evanston.
Here's that interview.
DE: Why did you agree to emcee this event? Why's it important to you?
MI: Well, first of all, I’d like to invite all of your viewers to please come out on July 14 to the Taste of Evanston. You will not be disappointed. Oh my gosh, I ate my way through it last year. And it is for such a good cause.
So, why am I doing this? It’s because of the cause. You know, homelessness is one of the most intrinsic problems we face as a nation. And Evanston is not immune. There was a time when you could go downtown and see very few homeless people. Today, as you traverse through Evanston, you will see homeless people. You see them panhandling, you see them sitting on the street. You see them looking for resources. You see them lined up at the food kitchens at the various churches offer. You see the lines going around the block.
You know Connections for the Homeless and Reba Place Development Corporation are doing such critical work. We need more groups like them.
And so, the reason I am doing this, is because I’m committed to the work that they’re doing. I’m committed to helping those less fortunate. There but for the grace of God go I. That is the way I was raised. That is what I believe. And that is what I hope all of your viewers will understand.
DE: And by coming to the Taste of Evanston how are they going to be helping?
MI: Well, you’re going to first of all enjoy yourself. And you’re going to get to taste so many delectable offerings from restaurants and retailers throughout Evanston who have come together for this most amazing cause. You can like me, start with dessert and then work your way to the main course. Or you can, like a more sane person, work your way from the main course through dessert. But we have everything.
How do you help? You buy your ticket! Come out on a gorgeous summer day. Mingle with your fellow Evanstonians and that’s what community is all about, right? So, you get most of the benefit and then those who need, those who are less advantaged than we, they get the help from your ticket sales.
DE: So, 28% of Evanstonians pay more than 30% of their income on housing.
DE: And most of the people who live in Evanston who pay that much are either low-income or very-low-income. So how do we get the political will in Evanston to change that? To allow them to have housing?
MI: You know I think that most of the time it ultimately comes down to education. People are afraid of what they don’t know.
So, people don’t understand that there are people who perhaps live right next door to them who are struggling to make the rent. Who are struggling to make decisions between covering their rent and buying clothing for their children or medicine for the elderly, right? Or food or recreation for the children and the family.
When people don’t understand that this is your neighbor who comes out of the same apartment building you do every day, waves hi to you, smiles. You both go your separate way. You go to work without a care, perhaps. They go to work and try to figure out how they’re going to buy their kids this ... how they’re going to pay for the medicine that needs a refill tomorrow ... how they’re going to pay that light bill before it gets turned off.
And all of the things that this causes, the stress, the pressure. You know, all of this plays into many of the social issues that we’re dealing with. It plays into domestic violence. It plays into child abuse. It plays into violence in general, youth violence, right?
When we as Evanstonians understand that we’re not talking about some unknown. We’re talking about our neighbor. When we understand that, I think that we begin to understand that affordable housing is not a dirty word. It is not a dirty word.
You know it reminds me there have been several cases in Evanston. I’ve been here for over 25 years. And there’ve been several cases over the years that I remember groups were planning affordable housing developments. You know, just an apartment building here, or a purchasing a house here, turning it into two or three apartments. And there was always, always 'Not In My Back Yard.' That NIMBY concept, right?
But guess what? Twenty-five years later all of those came to be and nothing happened. It was not the end of the world. People moved in and they made a life for themselves and they contributed their rich diversity to the rich fabric of Evanston. And that is what it boils down to.
DE: In Evanston housing security and homelessness affects the black community and the Latinx community more than anybody else.
DE: And there’s been an enormous exodus of African Americans who are a historic population in Evanston and they can no longer afford to live here.
DE: And so, their numbers are decreasing, have decreased a lot. But, you know, people come to Evanston for its diversity.
DE: And yet we’re not making decisions that would help keep our diversity here.
MI: That is key. You’re absolutely right. If we can’t maintain the affordable housing stock, we cannot maintain our diversity. We lose what makes Evanston so desirable as a community. I want diversity. I want my children...I raised a family here to live next door to every color in the rainbow. To go to school with every color in the rainbow. And to leave home knowing how to live in the world with others, respecting others, appreciating others. That’s what we’re going to lose in Evanston.
DE: And are losing.
MI: And are losing. Have lost so much of it. If we don’t reverse this trend ...
DE: And in addition to that, there are also people that we don’t think of who need affordable housing in Evanston.
Police officers, firefighters. The elderly. People with disabilities. People who are retired. They also are struggling to stay in Evanston.
DE: You know, tomorrow the City Council is going to vote to approving a resolution committing to ending structural racism and achieving racial equity. [they did]. You think about that there are so many aspects to righting the wrongs of the past.
DE: And achieving racial equity, a huge part of that is housing.
DE: And getting rid of housing segregation and making housing affordable.
DE: And so, I think that in a lot of ways housing is really a foundation for so many other human needs and human rights. Once you have a roof over your head and once you have that stability you can work on other things.
DE: You can feed your family. You can work on your own mental health or not have the stresses that lead to mental illness. So how important is this resolution?
MI: You know I will say this: it is so important and it is a monumental move because across this nation we cannot redress the wrongs of the past without acknowledging them. And taking responsibility and ownership. And I think that is what has held us back as a nation for so long.
The Chicago Metropolitan region remains among the most segregated in the nation. And it is not limited to the city. It is Evanston, it is all of the metropolitan suburbs that are still entrenched in the relics of segregation. Therefore, for the city of Evanston to move forward and really, really address these issues it must acknowledge them first and foremost and it must take ownership and basically say okay we did this. We did this. Now what?
So, yes, I think it’s very important. I’ve been very impressed that we are moving in this direction. My only concern is that too often we simply take ownership and then we pat ourselves on the back and we move on in the same vein in which we have operated. I would only hope that this city, in taking this monumental step, then continues on that path to redress the wrongs with opportunities such as increasing the affordable housing stock.
DE: Yeah. I thank you for that because in the resolution, in the wording of the resolution they say 'in an effort to keep Evanston being the most livable city.' And it’s a question, because is Evanston the most livable city?
MI: Is it still? Has it been? And who was it livable for?
DE: Right. And so, I think that’s where that we are going to have to hold City Council accountable for the resolution and to practice what it is preaching.
MI: That’s absolutely true.
DE: On my way here, I was listening to "On The Media," an NPR show. And they were interviewing Matthew Desmond who wrote the book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which is about evictions in Milwaukee.
He followed people who were evicted, and the reasons for their evictions. And he mentioned that if you overlay a map of the Great Migration from the south to the north, you will find that it exactly matches housing segregation, and where there's affordable housing and not-affordable housing.
DE: So we’re sitting here in a Reba Place Development Corp. apartment. Is this what you would have expected in affordable housing unit to look like?
MI: You know, I walked in, and I was saying to someone, this reminds me of back in the day when I lived in a walkup after college, you know, in my early career and trudging those stairs you know for years.
And guess what, it reminded me of that because I walked up to the top floor into an apartment just like this. Beautiful, spacious.
I think that too often those who are not in the know, those who have no concept of what affordable housing is or can be or who it is that needs affordable housing, tend to think, "They’re going to build projects next door," you know? And it’s all of the stereotypes, all of the misconceptions, all of the myths. All of the biases that come into play.
Heck, when I first moved to Evanston, I was fresh out of college. I needed affordable housing. I was trying to start my career. And so, I ran around trying to find an apartment that was affordable. And guess what, whenever the rent went up, I moved.
That’s the game that your neighbors and my neighbors still today play. Because they, unlike me perhaps, and unlike you perhaps, have not been able to escape that income bracket. And so therefore, when we do, we have to make a way for others. We have to, it’s incumbent upon us.
I’ve been down this road. I’ve lived in these apartments. I’ve struggled to find the next one that would be affordable when the rent went up. And we don’t want that. We want to make sure that housing stock is available for people like you and me and our neighbors. So, no this is what affordable housing looks like.
DE: As soon as somebody has affordable housing, what studies have shown, is that suddenly their children get healthier. Because they are able to pay for a roof over their head and for that stability. And then to have the money left over, the first thing they do is invest in their children.
DE: And so it really plays toward healthier populations.
DE: Kids then get fed. They stop being anemic.
MI: They stop acting out at school. All of those things.
You know it’s amazing. Housing is the foundation. If we don’t give our community that foundation, we give rise to all of those things we’ve just talked about.
You know hungry kids are angry kids, so think about the child that goes to school hungry because their parent had to pay the rent. So we really need to think about the very basic foundations of a community, and it starts with housing.
There’s no getting around it.