The agency that provides landlord-tenant counseling services to the City of Evanston came in for criticism from aldermen at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said she’s received calls from constituents who say their calls to Open Communities for help with landlord issues weren’t being returned.

And Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said she’s heard similar complaints from residents of her ward.

Simmons added that the gap in service has especially affected Northwestern University students who live off campus in her ward, and she wants to see that issue addressed.

In addition, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said he was concerned that it appeared the group was moving toward more of an issue advocacy role.

Sarah Flax, the city’s housing and grants administrator said it’s fairly common for a non-profit group to be involved in providing direct services and also doing advocacy, but that the work has to be appropriately balanced.

Contacted this morning by Evanston Now, Kelly Kleiman, the interim executive director at Open Communities, blamed callback problems on difficulties the agency had transferring its phone service when it moved earlier this year from Winnetka to offices at 990 Grove St. in Evanston.

Those problems took months to resolve, she said, but added that the phones have been working properly since March 26.

Kleiman said the group has also had substantial staff turnover in recent months.

Its long-time executive director, Gail Schechter, left in January 2016 after 22 years. Her replacement, David Luna, was on board for just two years before leaving in March to head another non-profit.

And, Kleiman says, several other staff positions have also turned over recently.

Open Communities’ most recent contract with the city — for $40,500 — was approved by the CIty Council in April last year and covered calendar year 2017.

Flax said that the performance issues — including setting metrics for callback times — could be specified in a new agreement with the group. But she added that there hadn’t been a problem with timely responses until recently.

The city had its own staff handling landlord-tenant issues until about a decade ago when that unit was eliminated during a budget crisis.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. More good work from Robin Rue Simmons
    I have been impressed by what I have read about her since was elected. She strikes me as being very sensible and objective, which is too rare these days.

    Standing up for Northwestern students who are residents in her Ward is something I have never heard of from our City Council. Good for her! They are, in fact, residents of Evanston and are due to have their interests represented just as much as anyone else. Too often, there is a narrative of “students versus residents”.

  2. Performance?

    The residential landlord-tenant ordinance is a toothless law that is not being enforced and never has been, even 10 years ago. Simply read the actual ordinance (which can be viewed online). There are life-safety codes in Title 5 that offer a much quicker city response for urgent matters. Everything else is a civil matter of which there is very little assistance practically available to landlords or tenants. 

  3. Public Benefit From Our Tax Dollars

    Evanston Cyclist must not be paying attention. Simmons’ employer, Sunshine, received 65k from the City in 2017. Only 46 residents, out of Evanston’s 70k citizens, took her classes. We have no info on any jobs created. Yet Alderman criticize only Open Communities. Why?, p. 61.

    1. Aldermen Question Performance of Housing Group

      @ Evanston Motorist. It is not the Alderman’s fault that only 46 residents signed up for her class. The opportunity is open to everyone. That’s the same as complaining about Northwestern University that most of their student population is non-Americans, from other countries and other states. Sounds like you just want to gripe. Why not complain about real issues. I am a resident, and I am attending her class… and it’s fabulous! I very much appreciate the opportunity. It is open to all, and not restricted in any way. It is equal opportunity. So what is your complaint really?

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