SB 1451: Amends The Counties Code

Affordable housing champion?

Affordable housing champion?

Flying under radar and under cover.

Council expressed a bit of feisty-ness Tuesday, weighing in strongly united and opposed to County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom’s plans to change county zoning ordinances.

That change would enable the county, among other things, to bring “affordable ‘workforce housing”‘ to unincorporated areas of DuPage County quickly, including those parts located almost wholly within Downers Grove.  While council are not necessarily against affordable housing, they are of a single mind against this county code change.

These two things seem unconnected at first.  But in DuPage, things are rarely unconnected…

Mayor Sandack said he had been given a heads up on the matter last week by local county board members. The question there is, what took them so long to tell DG?

Changes in the county zoning ordinance would facilitate workforce housing development.  DG staff says it would allow for attached or townhome development in single family home zoned areas with no notice given by the county.  County connected Pat Trowbridge tried that last October, trying to crowbar 21 24 townhomes onto three two oversized properties directly abutting our village boundary.  The council unanimously approved opposing this, and it subsequently died, in part due to an historical concept that the county does not interfere with municipalities within their 1 1/2 mile jurisdiction, and in part (so I’ve been told) opposition from a municipality with jurisdiction changes the county board requirements so they show cause for their request with a more-than-simple majority vote.  “By rights” means they don’t have to do that anymore.

The proposed change in the county ordinance would ignore that requirement and that consideration moving forward, exercising unilateral zoning powers rather than consultative cooperation.

Staff also said it would allow septic field construction where it is not currently allowed, would ignore parcel boundary setbacks, give density bonuses (for affordable housing).  At the surface this would allow Trowbridge, long a county level politico, to go ahead with the development DG shot down last year.  It would also allow the same to happen all over the county.  Woodridge and Lombard have already lodged formal written statements against this.

It goes deeper than just the county wanting to grease the skids so some connected pols can make a couple bucks.

There is enabling legislation at the state level that connects to this.  Senate Bill 1451, sponsored by State Senator Randy Hultgren (Wheaton) and Senator John J. Millner (Bloomingdale), would permit the county board in counties over 500,000 (excluding Cook) to use county funds to sell, lease, or exchange county property, including but not limited to a partial interest in property and to sell, lease or exchange property at less than fair market value, to achieve any housing need of the county and to benefit the residents of the county.  There are four counties that fit that requirement: DuPage (929,192), Kane (501,021), Lake (710,241), and Will (673,586).  Coincidence that all four bill sponsors are from DuPage?

It’s been on the county radar since at least March 16, and both Brian Sheahan and Mike McMahon are on the county Legislative Committee and have known about the state senate bill since it’s inception on February 18, 2009.

This initiative of the DuPage County Board is also intended to maximize Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds while removing some restrictions for how those funds are spent.  More on that later.

Senate bill sponsor Hultgren said this bill would pertain to oddly sized parcels of land owned by counties that would otherwise be unusable for larger developments. Rather than these parcels sitting empty because they can’t be sold to developers, these sites can be used for single-family residences, Hultgren said.

State senators passed Senate Bill 1451 last week and sent it to the House, where it was referred to the Rules Committee. The chief House sponsors are  our very own state Rep. Patti Bellock (Westmont) and Rep. Mike Fortner of West Chicago has also come on board as co-sponsor.

One of our three county board members from District 3, Kyle Gilgis, said this is not Section 8 housing, the affordable housing for “those people” that gets many DG nickers all in a twist. These homes would be for people who work for municipal, township, or county governments, allowing them to live closer to where they work.  Two different things.

DuPage County owns two dozen or so land parcels that could be used to build workforce housing, sized 1 acre or less.

While I normally chide those with the twisted knickers, this bill is a badly constructed attempt to put a shine on the upcoming gubernatorial run by Schillerstrom that is a pretty clever move when you parse it.  He’ll be able to take credit for an innovative attempt to provide lower housing costs, which in turn lowers the cost of government.  On the surface it is a textbook example of what groups like DuPage United works towards.  It has, so far, attracted bi partisan support, showing that Schillerstrom can advance ideas amenable to both parties.  And the toxic aspects of it’s consequences he doesn’t have to deal with for at least 4 years, by which time he hopes to be our governor.

Typically any county housing endeavor seeks out the input of nearby communities.  As I wrote above, areas within 1 1/2 mile of a muni border are considered as “ask first” areas where the nearby communities are given an informal right of refusal.  This has been a historical trend, and is in effect for many reasons, not the least of which is the tendency for close unincorporated areas to eventually be incorporated into the communities they are near.

In this case, however, that historical deference is ignored.  Lot density can be whatever the county decides without regard to what zoning exists around it, and what the nearby communities have intended as zoning for it.

Septic fields were noted by staff as an objectionable feature allowable without consultation, and septic fields around here just don’t cut it any more, especially with the lot sizes the county has available.  Or that county connected developers have available around here.  But it would be cheaper to build septic fields out on the west edge of the county instead of proper waste water hook ups or treatment facilities.  We’ve talked about developers moving costs downstream?  This downstream movement has a distinct smell to it.

This “by right” disregard of local zoning ordinances and regular procedure, preempts good government cooperation.  This is especially a problem for DG where we have unincorporated areas on the west and southwest sides, and if it continues unabated through to passage, may trigger a legal battle with multiple effected communities.  It may also trigger preemptive strikes for annexation.

If you had the prospect of high density homes with septic fields built next door, without prior or proper notice, or annexing now to the nearest muni and hoping they can protect you, what would you do?

You can read the text of SB 1451 here.

Here’s the legislative path it has taken.

The bill would amend 5 ILCS 5/5-1005Senate Committee Amendment #1 Deletes everything after the enacting clause, and authorizes the county board of a county with more than 500,000 residents to use county funds to sell, lease, or exchange property held by the county.

The amendment also deletes a provision concerning the administration or funding of a Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

The HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program is intended to provide emergency assistance to state and local governments to acquire and redevelop foreclosed properties that might otherwise become sources of abandonment and blight within their communities. The Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) provides grants to purchase foreclosed or abandoned homes and to rehabilitate, resell, or redevelop these homes in order to stabilize neighborhoods and stem the decline of house values of neighboring homes. The program is authorized under Title III of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) (pdf).

Grant funds under NSP will be allocated to state and designated local governments to carry out specific eligible activities aimed at stabilizing distressed neighborhoods. Grantees have 18 months to obligate all funds for Eligible Activities. Applicants must then complete all activities within 4 years.

  • All activities funded by NSP must benefit low and moderate income persons whose income does not exceed 120% of the area median income.
  • At least 25% of the funds appropriated for the redevelopment of abandoned or foreclosed homes or residential property that will be used to house individuals or families whose income does not exceed 50% of the area median income. However, the State has set an additional goal to target up to 40% of the funds to benefit households whose income does not exceed 50% of the area median income.
  • NSP funds cannot be used to prevent foreclosures.

So the proposed 1451 would substitute county employees instead of those listed under the first bullet point, and potentially would allow the county, in direct competition with municipalities, to use federal funds in order to buy properties and sell them for less using those NSP funds.  There is no provision that a municipality could do the same thing; there is no authorization to do that within the NSP itself, as 1451 so authorizes counties.

It would potentially also enable the county to direct federal funds into developments slammed in near municipalities that later would have to assume the costs of providing proper basic services, costs we would have to assume instead of the developer.  And it potentially pits groups like DuPage United Housing Group, who have worked for creating and maintaining diverse housing, against municipalities seeking to keep order and sense within their jurisdiction.

It is not a coincidence that both the House and Senate sponsors of 1451 are from DuPage County.  They have plenty of righteous cover on this too.  I have many friends that will support the idea of the county assuming additional powers and rights to forward the cause of housing diversity, and will defend those sponsors as doing a good and noble deed.

Village Attorney Petrarca will have a resolution ready for approval next Monday so council can weigh in against the county’s proposed changes to their zoning ordinance.  If enough local communities here in DuPage County rally against this it might have an effect.  Woodridge, Lombard, and Downers Grove are of a mind on this, and I suspect more will add their voices in agreement as word of the proposed changes gets around, if it gets around in time.

The federal funded NSP will still exist, will still have funds to be asked for over the next 18 months, funds for projects being built out over the next four years.   A bigger question-will folks around here remember it was Bellock who sponsored this bill in the House?


2 Responses to “SB 1451: Amends The Counties Code”

  1. RBH Says:

    Check the tape of the meeting. Sandack and Schnell weighed in strongly. The rest were silent.

    • Mark Thoman Says:

      You’re right. It was mostly a discussion between Sandack and Fieldman, and Schnell put her opinion on the public record because she’s out of town next week. I’ll try and follow up with additional quotes from the rest of council when they meet on Monday.

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