Advocates have urged it at old hotels; village hasn't committed yet

by Kaitlyn Smith for the Daily Herald


For more than two years, a group of Glen Ellyn residents has rallied behind a plan to replace vacant hotels with affordable housing.

Advocates are working closely with Full Circle Communities, a nonprofit affordable housing developer. U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez also has requested $750,000 in federal funds to "facilitate demolition and site remediation necessary to create space for an affordable housing development."

Still, advocates say they remain in a holding pattern. Glen Ellyn trustees agreed in June 2021 to spend $2.85 million to buy the crumbling hotel properties. The village completed the purchase a year and a half ago.

"It's been a long struggle," said Roger Hughes, a 22-year resident of Glen Ellyn and leader of DuPage United, a group of area churches, synagogues, mosques and nonprofit organizations spearheading the affordable housing effort. "There's been other luxury apartment developments recently in Glen Ellyn. They didn't have to go through everything that we're going through."

Trustees continue to deliberate on the redevelopment of the Roosevelt Road site, Village President Mark Senak said. A board decision is "imminent," within the next month or two, Senak said.

The board will consider whether to accept the Full Circle proposal and decide if it, or some other option, is an appropriate development for that site. Officials have held forums to gather community input and hired real estate consultants to study their options.

" ... So that we can make an informed decision that is in the best interest of the community," Senak said. "And that simply takes some time to go through that process."

Affordable housing advocates say the hotel site "checks all the boxes." It's accessible to public transit, schools and health care. It's across the street from a park and within a quarter-mile of three grocery stores.

"We'd love to see that site brought back to productive use and to see it serve a really acute need in the community," Full Circle Senior Vice President Lindsey Haines said.

Exorbitant housing prices in Glen Ellyn keep entry-level teachers, police officers and health care workers from living in the town they serve, advocates say. Parents of young adults with disabilities say their children should be able to stay in their community as they gain independence, but affordable, supportive housing options are scarce.

"It's a really thriving community, but there is not a lot of programmatically affordable housing," Haines said.

'A huge challenge'

In Elgin, Full Circle turned the historic Larkin Center into affordable housing. More than 600 people applied to live in 48 units.

"Each one of our properties has an active waiting list," Haines said. "We've had some experiences where we've had more than 1,000 people apply for units, so the demand is just staggering."

Full Circle plans to apply for tax credits to help fund the Glen Ellyn project, a competitive process administered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority. The application deadline has come and gone twice as Full Circle awaits a decision from the village. Advocates hope they will be able to move ahead with the village in enough time for the next round of funding.

"The opportunity to apply for financing for projects like this is only made available once a year," Haines said.

Project supporters say a housing study commissioned by the village bolsters their case.

The 90-page report, released last week, confirmed people with disabilities face limited housing options in Glen Ellyn and the region. In 2020, more than 2,350 Glen Ellyn residents -- 8.5% of the population -- were living with a disability.

"It's very difficult for someone with a physical disability who needs an accessible unit to find any place to live in Glen Ellyn," Haines said. "It's just a huge challenge."

More than 10,000 people work in the village and commute from elsewhere, the study showed. On average, workers in Glen Ellyn's top employment sectors generally earn less than $60,000 per year.

But Glen Ellyn's median home value was $465,200 in 2020 -- nearly $150,000 higher than the county median. Smaller, more affordable homes are being demolished and replaced with larger ones as Glen Ellyn becomes more affluent.

There also is limited supply of legally restricted affordable housing in Glen Ellyn and the region. Without the restrictions, rent could be raised at any time, and "it leaves folks in a really vulnerable situation," Haines said.

'A great solution'

DuPage United members have filled board meetings to register their support. They say they've also faced not-in-my-back-yard attitudes from some residents.

"For some reason, when we start talking about affordable and supportive housing for essential workers and people that need a little extra help to live independently, the opposition comes up, and it's not based on facts," said Hughes, a retired psychologist. "It's based on fear."

Advocates seek to dispel misperceptions. Full Circle creates quality, "well-managed" affordable housing, said Amy Lawless Ayala, a lead DuPage United organizer.

Full Circle partners with other organizations to provide on-site supportive services. The Elgin complex offers transportation assistance, health and wellness programs, and case management. In Glen Ellyn, Full Circle would build units for people with disabilities and a range of incomes.

"The beauty of this whole model is that you have a blended community," said Clara Hughes, who like her husband is a DuPage United leader.

The village owns more than 2 acres between Roosevelt Road and Taft Avenue. Full Circle has proposed using all or part of the site, Senak said.

"Full Circle understands that the village would like to promote commercial development on a portion of this site, consistent with neighboring stretches of Roosevelt Rd.," Haines wrote in a June 2022 letter to the board. "We would strive to work collaboratively with the village ... to ensure that a remaining portion of the site is viable for commercial development."

Last December, Senak said the board was considering seven offers from commercial, office and residential developers, including affordable housing. As a result of negotiations with potential developers, Senak expects the village will be able to recover the money it spent.

"I do believe that we're at the point where it is important now to make a decision and to move forward," he said.

The funding requested by Ramirez now is part of the board discussion on which option to pursue, Senak said.

Hughes is urging Glen Ellyn to set a "positive example" for other suburbs.

"There's a great need," he said. "There's a great solution."

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