Evanston aldermen Monday are scheduled to discuss whether the city should change its rules to permit creation of more rooming houses as a means of providing more affordable housing here.

A city staff memo prepared for the meeting says that 76 properties are licensed as rooming houses in the city. But the vast majority are Northwestern University dorms, fraternities and sororities.

Also subtract six hotels the city categorizes as rooming houses, and facilities operated by the YMCA and YWCA, and you’re left with about seven privately-owned properties licensed as rooming houses, all close to campus.

Rooming houses were once much more common in Evanston and other cities, but zoning changes were adopted starting a half century or more ago to restrict their use.

Evanston currently bans rooming houses in single-family zoning districts and requires special use approval for them in multi-family residential districts.

The city’s rooming house regulations permit shared baths in rooming houses — with a minimum of one bath for every six residents, and requires rooming house operators to change supplied bed linens and towels at least once a week.

They also require that each sleeping room occupied by one person be a minimum of 70 square feet and requires an additional 50 square feet for each additional person occupying a sleeping room.

In the Pacific Northwest, where major cities like Seattle have seen much more severe housing affordability issues than here, encouraging rooming houses has come to be seen as one key to providing more affordable housing by activists including Alan Durning, the founder and director of the Sightline Institute

In a book published in 2013, Durning argues that the three keys to solving the affordable housing crisis are “re-legalizing rooming houses, uncapping the number of roommates who may share a dwelling and welcoming accessory dwellings such as granny flats and garden cottages.”

Some new-construction variations on the rooming house theme — call apodments — have been built in Seattle, which have private baths but a shared kitchen down the hall — and have drawn some complaints about density from neighbors.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Rooming houses

    We’ve lived on MapleAvenue since 1971.  Many of the two flats from Garnett to Noyes are essentially rooming houses without licenses, assuming that your map shows the ones that are officially licensed rooming houses.  In fact, one next door to us has only one common space with eight students living there.  There are many two flats that have converted to this model, which is against the City’s (unenforced) code. When inspectors come around, which is only every two years, due to lack of funds for more inspectors, there are ways to hide the number of residents.  This is what I’ve been told by residents.  Most landlords of these places charge each student $700. – $900./month.  These places are big money makers and yet the landlords whine about their high taxes, etc.  When we moved here some two flats were owner occupied and all two flats were lived in by adult tenants, families, or a few older students.  In the late eighties properties were sold and investors hit the neighborhood like crows on carrion.  Some properties belonged to older residents who passed away or downsized.  A  few were sold to investors who presented themselves as prospective family home buyers.  Not all properties that were bought were two flats or rooming houses.  There were single family houses that were turned into student rentals.  Parents buy condos, rent out extra bedrooms to their students’ friends and sell them when their students graduate.  This has been very disheartening for the permanent residents, who found themselves surrounded by nuisances such as overflowing garbage and noisy parties.  To their credit, the City and University have worked to relieve residents, who approached them years ago for solutions, but it’s been a long haul and taken a lot of effort on all sides.

    Permanent residents would be happy to have families move back into the two flats and single family rentals, but rooming houses would be untenable for most adults and families who wouldn’t be happy with a rooming house situation.  This is a situation that needs a lot thought from the City with input from the permanent residents, The Firemens Park Neighbors and the residents on Sherman who also face the same situation.

    1. Couldn’t agree more

      great post. Thank you for sharing. Aldermen who vote for this should be voted out.

    2. Re: Rooming Houses

      I completely understand Barbara’s frustration.The north shore board of realtors have lobbied for investors for years. A few key players account for the majority of “conversions”. The families in Fireman’s Park and other areas will not have a chance until elected officials actually begin to advocate for them; specifically elected officials that don’t represent their wards but are very friendly with the real estate industry. 


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