Evanston aldermen agreed Monday to explore a range of ideas for increasing the supply of affordable housing in the city — from building on city-owned parking lots to creating a rental assistance program funded by real estate transfer taxes.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, proposed that the parking lot on South Boulevard at Hinman Avenue, be redeveloped for affordable housing.

Fleming said less than two thirds of the spaces in the lot are leased for parking now.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she agreed that the South Boulevard lot, and perhaps some additional city-owned surface lots could be redeveloped for housing.

Aldermen referred the idea to the Transportation and Parking Committee, on which both Fleming and Wynne serve, for further consideration at its Nov. 29 meeting.

Rental assistance

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, proposed creation of a new rental subsidy program for working families earning between 30 and 80 percent of area median income.

She proposed using the $1.2 million affordable housing fund contribution from the 831 Emerson development to fund the first two years of the program, with the third year funded by $500,000 of the city’s real estate transfer stamp revenue.

She suggested the program could provide each household a $5,000 initial subsidy for security deposits, moving costs and utility deposits and then provide monthly subsidies to reduce rent payments to affordable levels.

The program, she said, would use existing privately owned rental apartments and be conditioned on the landlords signing three year leases with participants in the program.

Tenants in good standing, she said, could renew their participation in the program at the end of the three years. Her proposal was referred to the Administration and Public Works Committee, which Rainey chairs, for further consideration.

Occupancy limits

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, called for repeal of the city ordinance that limits occupany of a dwelling unit to no more than three unrelated individuals.

The rule has been popular with some single-family homeowners living near campus as a way to restrict student rentals, but Wilson said the rule ends up being discriminatory against senior citizens and others.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, complained that developers were buying single family homes and converting them to three unit apartments. Without the occupany limit, Fiske said, they might try to cram a dozen people into such buildiongs. “That’s a non-starter for me,” Fiske added.

But Wilson said the city has separate ordinances to bar excessive noise and failure to maintain properties — the issues supporters of the three-unrelated rule want addressed. “I want us to get away from models that presuppose problems based on circumstances instead of responding to actual problems,” he added.

Accessory uses

Alderman also agreed to consider lifting rules that limit the use of coach houses and similar accessory housing units on a single family lot to relatives or employees of the homeowner.

And they agreed to consider permiting the creation of new accessory housing units on lots in neighborhoods that don’t have them now.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said he’d identified a number of properties in his ward that have large garages that could be converted to small, affordable dwelling units.

The occupancy limit and accessory use issues were referred to the Planning and Development Committee.

Developer fees

Wynne suggested raising the fees the city charges developers under its inclusionary housing ordinance to increase funds available for affordable housing.

But Wilson said raising the cost of new construction would only increase the size of developments proposed to cover those costs.

“Instead of 16- and 33-story buildings,” Wilson said, “we’ll get 25- and -45-story buildings if we double down on this.”

He suggested the inclusionary housing ordinance should be revised to take account of what type of structures a proposed development is replacing.

If it’s replacing existing market-rate affordable housing, he suggested, the fees charged should be higher than if it’s not.

The aldermen agreed to set up a special committee to look into possible revisions to the inclusionary housing ordinance. Aldermen Fiske, Rainey, Revelle and Wilson volunteered to serve on the committee along with three citizen experts on housing issues to be named by the mayor.

The also agreed to schedule quarterly reviews of their progress on affordable housing issues, with the first one likely to be held on Jan. 29.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Occupancy Limits

    Alderman Wilson’s suggestion to rescind the no more than three unrelated occupancy rule is a huge mistake, which if enacted would further destabilize the neighborhoods surrounding Northwestern. There is ample evidence to support this. Why unduly enrich a select few real estate investors at the expense of long term stability for Evanston families? Alderman Wilson is really talking about off-campus student housing and doesn’t have a stake in the game because his ward isn’t effected. Why has he historically been pushing this agenda? Caving in to real estate lobbyists?

    1. Three unrelated ordinance

      I would like for Alderman Wilson to live for one month in our neighborhood during football season.  We moved here before students occupied the houses.  The cottage next door to us was purchased by an investor and the City gave permission to add a second story to a non-conforming property (44″ from our house), thereby increasing the number of occupants from two to six. Later they converted the basement to accomodate 2 more residents.  This house has 8 students with one kitchen and common space (2 baths).  Apparently the rooming house license ordinance went the way of all other good ordinances.  There have been tenants who have had parties of 2-3 hundred people with loud music blasting for hours.  Multiply that by other houses with multiple occupants in our neighborhood and you have chaos, with permanent residents having to call police and Northwestern authorities for everything from noise to underage drinking and public urination.  There is much predatory investing here and instead of renting to families, the rent charged to each student nextdoor to us adds up to $7200. per month for the landlord.  Families used to live in most of these houses and some sold them to investors who presented themselves as families.  This neighborhood could be an affordable one for families as it was when we moved here.  

      1. That’s horrible! You need to collect evidence

        What you describe about all the noise and partying next door to you is horrible. It might be good for you to begin collecting  video evidence and start documenting this activity because I’m sure lots of Evanston residents don’t know this is going on. You need to blast social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) with this evidence, and maybe email Alderman Wilson with it as well. Maybe you can even find an attorney to file a case for you against the investor.

  2. Consider Harley Clarke/Parks

    City should consider converting the Harley Clarke Mansion into a couple of affordable housing units and buulding on underused park land

    1. Mansion
      Harley Clarke Mansion is not on park land. It is on city owned land. There is park land directly north of the Harley Clarke land. The city could sell the Harley Clarke land at any time and it could produce a great amount of highly needed tax dollars but the drunken people that run our city only desires to raise taxes and fees to pass their bad habits off to Evanston taxpayers. Nine people with Jack O’Lantern heads could do no worse than the Evanston city council.

  3. Let’s tackle the budget first
    Key facts: 1. the city is in compliance with State affordable housing laws.

    2. Housing is a market commodity and as such any limited investment the city has at its disposal will never be significant enough to impact the market realities.

    3. Limit city actions to only supporting the market by supporting deregulatory efforts like allowing granny flat and doing away with the unrelated provisions (with reasonable occupancy limits to insure health and safety).
    4. Concentrate on investing in public goods that contribute to equity like public transit and infrastructure.

    1.  Best post

      Best post about affordable housing. I am tired of this subject. There is no reason to go above the state requirement, specially if we have a budget problem.

      I help to vote the incumbent alderman out of office Because of her constant push for affordable housing. I recommend everyone to do the same.

  4. How much is enough ?

    How many “affordable housing” units should be available in Evanston? 

    What is the process to determine the number of units, types of units, rental cost/ownership cost, location of units etc.

    I hear many people say we need more affordable housing, and more of this and more of that and the list goes on.

    Evanston already has over 15% affordable housing units and many of our neighboring communities don’t even come close to 10%. Both District 65 and ETHS have between 40-45% of students who are eligible for free or subsidized lunches.

    How much is enough?


    1. As long as the SMALL minority

      As long as the SMALL minority of residents with the biggest voices keep pushing the agenda to make themselves feel better it will never be enough.  

      1. It’s gotta stop

        My ATM is running out of cash.


        P.S. seriously, more people need to take notice, else the squeaky wheel will get the grease at the expense of everyone else – a lot of this stuff just doesn’t make sense

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