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During public comment, Michael Deneroff, a representative of NU’s student government, argued that the rule is outdated and denies students the opportunity to make use of tenant protection ordinances.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