Evanston’s mayor and two aldermen met Wednesday night with representatives from Northwestern University’s student government and seemed to charm them, despite giving no ground on the city’s controversial apartment occupancy limits.

Alderman Grover, Mayor Tisdahl and Alderman Holmes listen to a question at the meeting.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl suggested that with people having trouble selling single family homes “it’s enticing to sell to somebody who wants to chop up a house and crowd in students.”

She offered no numbers on how many such sales may have occurred, but said the practice appears to be especially prevalent in heavily African-American neighborhoods that have been hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis.

Students at the session, held in the Fisk Hall auditorium on campus.

One such neighborhood, census tract 8092 on the city’s west side, now has a housing vacancy rate of more than 16 percent.

“We want to continue to have a diverse population, but don’t want to lose more African-Americans,” the mayor said.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, defended the city rule that permits no more than three unrelated individuals to share an apartment.

Alderman Holmes.

“These rules are for everyone, not just for students,” Holmes said. “I have many complaints in my ward for overcrowding where people have doubled up.”

The example she cited was of a two-flat apartment building where members of an extended family had doubled up and had as many as 20 people living in the building.

None of the students pointed out that if the people in that situation are related to each other, they wouldn’t be affected by the “three-unrelated” limit.

Holmes did suggest that students might qualify to rent some of the houses being rehabilitated under the city’s $18 million federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant.

But otherwise the city officials seemed to have little to offer in the way of fresh housing options that might become available while the current crop of students are still in college.

They spoke in vague terms of possibly encouraging the university to build more housing on campus — a move that presumably would only aggravate apartment vacancy problems elsewhere in town.

The mayor did repeat her statements that the city doesn’t intend to evict students, and encouraged them to report housing code violations so the city could attempt to force landlords to address them.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, claimed the town-gown feud of the past is over.

Alderman Grover.

“People like students a lot, unless they’re drunk,” Tisdahl said, “Let’s try to figure out how to live together.”

Ultimately, the city officials suggested, students will have limited political influence in town as long as they fail to vote in local elections.

Mayor Tisdahl said that students turned out to vote in large numbers for Barack Obama in 2008, but a total of only 13 students voted at two campus precincts in the city election the following year.

The hour-long session featured generally mild questions from the students — one so easy that the mayor thanked the questioner for offering up such a softball — and ended with a round of applause from the students for the city officials.

Related stories

Code puts hundreds of apartments off limits to students

City: 3 students good, 4 bad

Editorial: City should reform occupancy rules

Landlords call for occupancy limit reform

Apartment occupancy limit questioned

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Fair Housing?

    What does this statement from the Mayor imply?

    "We want to continue to have a diverse population, but don't want to lose more African-Americans," the mayor said.

    It is not the city business to worry over who is renting or buying housing. The law clearly states this.  Is the city planning to stick its nose into who rents or buys a home by race in this community?

    Income is not a criteria protected by the law – criteria of using income to rent low income housing is legal – there is no racial criteria.  I would hope the city is following the law in all of its silly affordable housing programs and other efforts they continue to waster our tax dollars!

  2. The housing market

    Maybe if our glorious Washingtonians had not allowed loans to persons who might otherwise not have qualified, income-wise, the housing market would not be such a mess. Back in the day, one would not have gotten a home loan if the monthly cost exceeded 20% of one's monthly take-home pay. Let's hear it for Barney Frank and his ilk!!!

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