Housing activists and Evanston landlords agreed at a city meeting Monday evening that licensing landlords isn’t the solution to problems of providing safe rental housing.

Gail Schechter, executive director of Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly, said the city instead should continue its existing rental registration program and supplement it with proactive code enforcement and a sliding scale of registration fees that increases for properties with poor code compliance records.

Carlis Sutton.

Landlord Carlis Sutton said licensing wouldn’t improve anything. And landlord Tina Paden of Paden Properties said the city fails to collect registration fees from many landlords now and there’s no reason to believe licensing would improve that.

Tina Paden.

Angel Schnur, who heads the city’s inspection program, said only 633 landlords of nearly 2,400 registered with the city paid their most recent registration bill, but she blamed pandemic-related delays and limitations of the city’s property standards software system for the very low response rate this year.

In a more typical year, 60% to 70% pay “eventually,” Schnur added.

Paden said a lot more needs to be done with the city’s inspection program. “We’ve been asking you to do something more efficient,” Paden said, “but we get nothing.”

Paden also claimed that inspections now target landlords in predominantly minority and lower income sections of town while ignoring violations elsewhere.

“You’re only targeting landlords you want to get rid of, like myself,” Paden added.

Mary Rosinski, a real estate agent and landlord, called licensing “a solution in search of a problem.”

She said the failure to enforce property standards code has been a problem for years.

Sue Loellbach of Joining Forces for Affordable Housing identified the issues the city is facing as how to deal with “frat houses” — noisy student housing — how to deal with substandard housing and how to boost the city’s resources devoted to inspections so it can get away from just doing complaint-based inspections and move to a more proactive inspection program.

She said it wasn’t clear that licensing would help solve any of those issues.

Clare Kelly

Two members of the Housing Subcommittee of the Planning and Development Committee — Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) and Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) indicated they agreed that licensing either shouldn’t be the approach used by the city, or at least should not be entertained until other reforms were tried.

The other member present, Ald. Bobby Burns (5th), said he still thought licensing was the best solution. The fourth member of the subcommittee, Ald. Devon Reid (8th), was absent from the meeting.

Schnur said the city is in the midst of seeking proposals for new software that she hopes will improve inspectional services operations, but she conceded that the last software upgrade was also supposed to have yielded those benefits, but doesn’t actually work as had been promised.

The subcommittee voted to schedule its next meeting for 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 14.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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