Northwest Suburban Housing Collaborative forms to address foreclosures, preserve affordable housing

 
 
When it comes to setting priorities on pressing housing issues, municipalities across the Chicago region are putting aside their differences and working together to improve livability throughout the area. The latest manifestation of this collaborative spirit is the Northwest Suburban Housing Collaborative (NWSHC), a group of five municipalities in northwest Cook County who have joined forces to proactively address housing needs in their communities. 
 
The idea for the Northwest Suburban Housing Collaborative was born of discussions that the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus (MMC)  and the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) convened among leaders from Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Mount Prospect, Palatine, and Rolling Meadows, who saw  a growing need in their communities to preserve affordable workforce housing and respond to the foreclosure crisis.  Initial interest was sparked during a very different marketplace, as described in more detail in the Federal Reserve Bank’s recent Profitwise article on “Suburban Housing Collaboratives:  A case for interjurisdictional collaboration,” but foreclosure trends fast-tracked local efforts.  According to data from Woodstock Institute, foreclosures grew in the NWSHC’s member communities by 23.7 percent from 2009 to 2010. Foreclosures on condominiums are a particular concern in the northwest suburbs. Data from Woodstock Institute released in 2010 showing that Palatine and Arlington Heights had some of the highest concentrations of condominium foreclosures in the Chicago six-county region added urgency to the formation of NWSHC. A report from the DePaul University Institute on Housing Studies found that just 18.7 percent of rental units in the Arlington Heights area are affordable, compared to 29.5 percent of rental units in suburban Cook County. 
 
The five communities recognized that collaborative action would allow them to access more resources and plan more effectively than going it alone, and worked with MPC and MMC to secure initial funding from the Chicago Community Trust.  NWSHC officially launched with the signing of an intergovernmental agreement in 2011. In November 2011, the NWSHC steering committee hired Mary Lu Seidel, a housing expert who has been working in the Chicago region for decades, to coordinate the collaborative. 
 
“I’m excited to work with these five communities to ensure that the housing landscape in northwest Cook County is meeting the needs of our families,” says Seidel. “The collaborative model is an excellent way to leverage resources not historically available to suburban areas and make sure our dollars are making the biggest impact they can.”
 
Although the collaborative is just starting up, the municipalities have already set their sights on addressing multifamily foreclosures and preserving affordable rental housing  Even before creating their intergovernmental agreement,  participating areas reached out to local multifamily property owners and managers to hear about their concerns and to provide resources available through the Preservation Compact, RHOPI and other efforts.  The Collaborative also plans to continue its outreach to employers to educate them about the importance of affordable workforce housing and is planning to conduct focus groups with their employees to gain a better understanding of their housing needs. “Local employers have been great advocates for housing, which can help drive policy change,” said Seidel. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, MMC, and MPC are working on a report analyzing the region’s housing needs as part of the Homes for a Changing Region project, which will inform NWSHC’s planning process. 
 
The NWSHC is the third intergovernmental housing collaborative formed in the Chicago region, following successful efforts in south and west Cook County—the first of their kind in the nation. The collaboratives in the south and west suburbs have been able to attract nearly $30 million in federal funds to their municipalities, allowing them to pursue innovative projects that return vacant, foreclosed homes back to productive use and stabilize hard hit communities. 
 
“On one hand, the northwest suburbs were the early leaders on this notion of interjurisdictional collaboration among peers with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus,” said Robin Snyderman of the Metropolitan Planning Council, which has been a key partner to all the collaborative efforts. “ Because of the foreclosure crisis, however, they supported regionwide priorities and the need for an initial focus in the south and west parts of the region.  We are thrilled that they have formalized local efforts  more recently, as they are really in a unique situation. On one hand, they are poised to build on lessons learned in the south and west suburbs. On the other hand, because it’s the first intergovernmental housing collaborative formed in a stronger housing market, they can bring new leadership to this field and connect their housing strategies with their stronger job base.” 
 
The experiences of housing collaboratives in the Chicago area have shown that when communities work together, they are able to reap bigger rewards for everyone. With the launching of NWSHC, an even bigger portion of the region will now benefit from the efficiencies and opportunities of collaboration that support more stable and affordable communities. 

 
Photo courtesy of Flickr user kilgub via a Creative Commons license.