Evanston aldermen Monday shipped three potentially far-reaching ideas for affordable housing to a council committee for further discussion rather than direct the Plan Commission to immediately develop implementation rules.

The slower path was approved during a special Council meeting at the insistence of Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, who initially urged that any discussion of one of the ideas — repealing the city’s ban on more than three unrelated people living in a dwelling unit — be delayed for more than a year.

Fiske said the Council discussion should wait until a year after Northwestern University’s rule requiring sophomores to live on campus goes into effect this fall.

The NU housing change may reduce rental demand in the immediate campus area, and Fiske and others have suggested in the past that it might lead to the deconversion of some multi-family properties in the area back to single-family, owner-occupied homes.

During public comment, Michael Deneroff, a representative of NU’s student government, argued that the rule is outdated and denies students the opportunity to make use of tenant protection ordinances.

Cicely Fleming.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said a lot of people in her ward want to move forward on repeal of the three-unrelated rule.

People in her ward want to be able to share housing, she said, “We should at least have a discussion now and move forward.”

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, who proposed the repeal measure, said the issue has lingered for decades. “It’s time to move the conversation forward.”

But to get the issue on the Planning and Development Committee agenda, he agreed to just schedule a discussion of the issue, and not have staff prepare a draft ordinance to actually repeal the ban.

Sarah Flax.

Sarah Flax, the city’s housing and grants administrator, described two other proposals — to encourage construction of accessory dwelling units and ease lot size requirements that make it difficult to build modest-size ‘starter’ homes.

Fiske said the accessory dwelling change would “affect all sorts of things, it’s very complicated,” and urged that it not be sent to the Plan Commission, but rather go to P&D for further discussion.

Don Wilson.

Of the change in lot size requirements, Wilson said the trend in recent years has been to tear down small houses and replace them with big ones. It’s time now, he suggested, to return to building some smaller houses.

That proposal was also referred to the Planning and Development Committee.

The aldermen did approve an intergovernmental agreement with Evanston Township High School designed to assure continuation of the school’s “Geometry in Construction” program that has produced an affordable house a year for the past few years, with each house moved to a city-owned vacant lot.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward proposed giving the Housing and Homelessness Commission the task of developing a comprehensive affordable housing plan for the city.

But Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said the affordable housing issue already has the attention of the full City Council now. “What’s the committee to do that we’re not already asking staff to do?” Braithwaite asked.

At the suggestion of Mayor Steve Hagerty, Revelle’s idea was scaled back to having staff develop a proposed scope of work that the commission might tackle, with that report to be presented at the Council’s next special meeting on affordable housing on July 30.

Flax also announced that city staff has put together a panel discussion with experts on the financing of affordable housing that’s scheduled to be held at 6:30 p.m. on May 30 in the City Council Chamber at the Civic Center.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Affordable housing

    Why would beautiful Evanston want to cheapen itself with smaller lots and multi dwellings on one lot.  Austin Tx was cited as a reference point.  Have you been to Austin?? They’re zoning is a mess with 2 houses on one lot. One started out as a garage just like you are proposing. 

    Secondly, there is plenty of affordable housing… elsewhere.  We don’t need to be all things to all people. We worked hard to get to Evanston and continue to work hard to stay here.  Let’s not cheapen what we have .

    1. Amen!


      plenty of affordable places in nearby — Skokie and Rogers Park

      1. Why not move to a gated community?
        If you don’t want to live near working class families, go move farther up the North Shore. There’s plenty of homogeneous rich or upper middle class neighborhoods up there (I should know; I’m originally from Highland Park and have family in Lake Forest.) As a densely populated town that’s only technically a suburb, Evanston is necessarily home to people from all walks of life. Adding more affordable housing allows security for families with lower incomes, and reduces the number of homeless people in Chicagoland. Yours is not the only income bracket that works hard.

        1. Affordable Housing
          Disgusted, knowing that Evanston is seventh out of 600 cities in the USA in the share of housing cost represented by property taxes (thanks Evanston Now!), do you stand by your statement? Why are there nearly 500 residential properties for sale in Evanston (realtor.com)? Before we address affordable housing, maybe we should address what causes so much housing inventory to be for sale in Evanston (and how it lowers home values). Knowing the city has a substantial budget deficit and there is surplus of housing for sale, where should we place affordable housing on the list of priorities? Finally, a bit of digging shows that according to the Bettergov.org in July 2012, the City of Evanston has $187.6 million in unfunded pension liabilities. I would be curious to see where we stand nearly 6 years later. Getting our financial house in order is a much higher priority to attracting and retaining residents than any well intentioned attempt at affordable housing.

        2. It’s not having different

          It’s not having different income brackets that I’m against. I’m against using already high taxes to social engineer a concept that has never worked. Low income housing is a noble but failed attempt to solve a complex problem but until a solution that shows results is found we shouldn’t try to solve a problem that does not exist. Everyone is allowed to live in Evanston, doesn’t mean that everyone has the right to, no matter the cost.

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