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Apartment occupancy limit questioned

Evanston’s ordinance limiting to three the number of unrelated people who can live in a housing unit was criticized and defended at a community meeting Thursday night.

City housing inspector Jeff Murphy.

Evanston’s ordinance limiting to three the number of unrelated people who can live in a housing unit was criticized and defended at a community meeting Thursday night.

City housing inspector Jeff Murphy.

At a joint 5th and 7th ward meeting at Northwestern’s Technological Institute, Jeff Murphy, head of the city’s property standards unit, said the ordinance is needed to deal with concerns about overcrowding.

“If you have four students living in a house, compared to a family of four,” Murphy said, you’re likely to have four cars, which creates a lot of congestion. And with people moving in and out frequently, it creates a lot more wear and tear on the house compared to what you’d normally see with a family.”

A landlord at the meeting, Dave Ahn, said he has a building with four-bedroom apartments, and that the restriction doesn’t make sense for apartment units that large or larger.

Landlords Dave Ahn and Joey Resnick.

But Murphy said he’s seen situations where landlords have combined units to pack as many bedrooms into a building as possible, and are essentially running them as rooming houses.

Under city ordinances, Murphy said,  a rooming house would have to be equipped with a sprinkler system. But landlords say sprinklers are prohibitively expensive to install in older buildings.

About 40 people turned out for the meeting, including a large number of older residents living in the area near campus. They generally applauded efforts to limit the number of students in off-campus housing.

“This is our neighborhood,” one woman said. “We don’t want more than three people. We’re trying to get our neighborhood back, and you come in to make a lot of money,” she told the landlords.

Aldermen Jane Grover, 7th Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, hosted the meeting.

Bennett Johnson, a long-time community activist, said the restriction on the number of unrelated people living in a dwelling unit has been on the city’s books since the 1940s and was originally adopted in an attempt to cut back on overcrowded rooming houses on on the city’s predominantly black west side.

He described the rules as an appropriate effort to try to control density. 

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