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Housing Commission

Highland Park, Lake County

Policy and Governance

The Highland Park Housing Commission has served as the driving force behind many of the City's workforce housing initiatives, including the development of the Community Land Trust, Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.

An MPC policy and governance case study

Policy background

Highland Park is often credited as one of the regional leaders on affordable housing policy. Many of the City’s successes are the result of years of deliberate work to build understanding and capacity around workforce housing issues. In the 1970s, in response to strong grassroots efforts led by the League of Women Voters and some local businesses, Highland Park’s Human Relations Commission studied the City’s local housing market and need for low-and-moderate income households. This led to the 1973 creation of the Highland Park Housing Commission, which was given the authority to acquire and build housing subject to approval of the City Council. The Commission has served as the driving force behind many of the City’s workforce housing initiatives, including development of a Community Land Trust (now Community Partners for Affordable Housing) and Housing Trust Fund, and adoption of its Inclusionary Housing policy.

In 1970, the Highland Park Human Relations Commission submitted a report to the mayor and City Council that illustrated that the serious shortage of housing affordable to low-and-moderate income households caused employers to have trouble hiring and retaining employees. In addition, many low-income families and families on fixed incomes who had lived in Highland Park all of their lives were unable to remain in the community due to rising costs.

The Human Relations Commission recommended the following:

  • The City Council appoint a broad-based task force to determine how much low-and-moderate income housing was required and where it should be located, as well as what, if any, changes should be made to existing ordinances.
  • Pending the task force’s final report and recommendations, the City implement a pilot project that would generate at least 50 homes for low-and-moderate income households. (At the time, there was an estimated need for more than 200 homes affordable to low-income families in the area, and 275 homes affordable to families with moderate incomes.)
  • Locate affordable developments throughout Highland Park to avoid school overcrowding and concentrations of poverty.

As a result of these recommendations, the Highland Park Housing Commission was established by ordinance to “encourage, promote and engage in the development of low-and-moderate rent housing projects, and … to relieve the shortage of decent, safe and sanitary dwellings.”

How it works

In the late 1990s, residents and community leaders became aware of the growing gap between middle class incomes and housing prices. After identifying this problem, the City launched a planning process to develop a new affordable housing plan, which became a component of the City’s Master Plan. Highland Park’s Affordable Housing Plan was adopted in January 2001 and was updated in March 2003. The Housing Commission led the effort of drafting the plan in coordination with the Planning Commission, City Council and Human Relations Commission. The plan outlines strategies to address the gap between incomes and housing prices, including the establishment of a community land trust, an affordable housing trust fund, an inclusionary zoning policy and an employer-assisted housing program.

Today, the Housing Commission operates rental housing in four affordable developments and works closely with Community Partners for Affordable Housing (formerly Highland Park Community Land Trust), which offers affordable homeownership opportunities. The Housing Commission administers revenue to develop affordable senior and family housing, manages the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to provide financial resources for affordable housing activities, oversees the City’s Inclusionary Housing Program and other housing initiatives, and makes recommendations to the City Council on policy matters and programs related to affordable housing.

The Housing Commission has the authority to acquire and dispose of improved or unimproved property, remove unsanitary or substandard conditions, construct and operate housing, regulate the maintenance of affordable buildings, and borrow, expend, loan and repay monies for the purposes listed above, subject to City Council approval.

Through three separate nonprofit corporations—Peers Housing Association, Walnut Housing Association, and Ravinia Housing Association—the Housing Commission operates three Section 8 affordable housing rental buildings utilizing federal funds. The Housing Commission, through a separate nonprofit corporation, Sunset Woods Association, initiated a public-private partnership to develop an affordable condominium development for seniors on behalf of the Housing Commission. The Housing Commission owns and operates 14 senior rentals within the development. The City’s two management companies that manage these homes are Evergreen Real Estate Services LLC and the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation.

The Housing Commission has eight members, one of whom is a non-voting ex-officio representative of the City Council. The other seven members are all Highland Park residents appointed by the mayor for terms of four years, who may be reappointed to a second consecutive four-year term. No Housing Commission member may serve for more than two full consecutive terms. Each member also serves on the Board of Directors for each of the four nonprofit corporations.


Department of Community Development, City of Highland Park

  • Goal

    To encourage and engage in the development of low-and-moderate income housing.

  • Target

    Low-and-moderate income residents and local employees.

  • Financing

    The City of Highland Park provides operating costs for the Housing Commission and also supports the employer-assisted housing program. The Housing Commission administers the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

  • Success

    Since the Housing Commission was created in 1973, 265 homes have been developed and another 13 are in the pipeline. Numerous policies and programs have been enacted, including the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, the Community Land Trust and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

  • Lessons Learned

    Having a local body dedicated to housing issues helps a community craft policies that specifically respond to area housing needs.