Evanston aldermen Monday night rejected a staff proposal to impose rent control restrictions on coach houses and other accessory dwelling units. They also directed the Plan Commission to draft zoning changes to legalize such units.

City regulations now only permit the use of coach houses if they are rented to members of the family that owns the primary dwelling unit on the lot.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said there would be too much administrative cost in trying to set rent control rules and carry out the staff’s companion proposal to limit such rentals to low-income tenants.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said simply legalizing the coach houses would help improve housing affordability in town — making the primary housing unit more affordable by giving the owners a source of additional income to pay their taxes and other costs. “It makes it easier for people to be able to live in their homes,” Revelle said.

Aldermen Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, and Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said they’d like to see the city develop some incentive for landlords to keep accessory dwelling units affordable, but how that might be accomplished wasn’t detailed during the council debate.

While aldermen didn’t mention it during their discussion, an Illinois statute prohibits municipalities from “controlling the amount of rent charged for leasing private residential or commercial property” unless the government has an ownership interest in the property.

It wasn’t clear how the city staff had planned to get around that statutory restriction.

A year ago a state lawmaker introduced a bill that would repeal the ban on rent control. But while the bill has picked up seven co-sponsors, it has yet to make its way out of the Rules Committee in the House.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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