The Winnetka Village Council once again Tuesday night heard contrasting opinions about whether the village should expand its affordable housing plan. And they decided they did not want to hear anymore. The trustees voted 5-1 to end their consideration of most of the Plan Commission’s recommendations for an affordable housing plan.
Carol Fessler, who serves on the Winnetka Caucus’s village platform committee, started the discussion by reviewing the caucus survey findings: 67 percent of the people who completed the survey were against expanding affordable housing versus 27 percent who supported the idea.
Many residents said those results alone should convince the village trustees the issue should be dropped.
“There isn’t any unfettered autonomy here,” said Bob Mucci, who has served on several caucus committees. The caucus slates candidates who agree to support its platforms. “That’s our checks and balances in this system, your promise to uphold the caucus policy which in most parts is the survey,” Mucci told the council. “You haven’t heard one person that lives here who is in favor of this. Your job couldn’t be any easier.”
Mucci was right. Although about 10 people already had voiced their opinions on affordable housing, the only two who were in favor of it were the executive director of the Interfaith Housing Center and another man who said he had just moved out of Lake Forest and wanted to move to Winnetka, but found he could not afford it.
But Mucci’s comment prompted several residents to step forward, including Mark Kurensky, who said, “I’m going to represent the 27 percent. There are 27 percent that said they want some form of affordable housing. (That) meant having a dialog about it. It didn’t mean spending a lot of money on it.” It meant offering incentives to encourage private money and private investment in providing affordable housing, Kurensky said.
Village Trustee Arthur Braun, however, said the results of the caucus survey made up his mind for him on the affordable housing plan.
“I was elected to speak for the residents of this community. We live in a community where majority rules, there is no question about it,” Braun said. “The (Winnetka) Plan Commission has done excellent work, but the rest of the people of Winnetka want something else, I believe the caucus has given us information on what the people want and that is what should be done. That’s what we were elected to do.”
Earlier in the evening, several residents told the trustees that it’s Winnetka’s high property taxes that make Winnetka unaffordable to so many.
“I got my tax bill this year and it’s up 21 percent from the previous year and that was after I had it appealed,” resident Joe Reinert said. His tax bill was “onerous” before, but the latest spike is “kind of like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Everyone says the same thing. They can’t wait to get out of this town because of the taxes,” Reinert said.
“What’s disturbing to most people, I think, is the Village Council is looking to expand government, at least exploring options to expand government, whether it be through affordable housing or maintenance codes,” Reinert said. Unlike stormwater drainage improvements, affordable housing is not something that neeeds to be done, “It’s disturbing to us we are going after things we don’t have to.”
To the argument that Winnetka needs affordable housing because the vast majority of people who work in the village don’t live there, resident Gerald Scully said that’s ”bunk.”
People can live and work where they want, Scully said. The people who can afford to live in Winnetka will do so and those who can‘t afford it will live elsewhere.
“What’s wrong with that?” Scully asked. “I don’t think we need social engineering. They’re good intentions, but it just doesn’t work.”