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Aldermen on Evanston’s Administration and Public Works Committee are scheduled to review a staff report tonight that responds to an aldermanic request to take a fresh look at residency rules for city employees.

Currently only the city manager is required by contract to live in Evanston. Overall about 20 percent of Evanston city workers do live in town — but there’s wide variation by department.

Policy goals claimed for residency rules include making the city workforce more racially and ethnically reflective of the community that’s served. But an analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight suggests that — at least when it comes to police — minorities remain underrepresented on big-city police forces that have the rules.

By contrast, Evanston’s police department currently has a higher percentage of black officers than the share of black residents in the city.

The staff report says Evanston does offer some limited preferences for residents.

Candidates for police and firefighter jobs get five preference points in their eligibility list ranking if they live in town. But those chosen don’t have to remain in Evanston to stay on the job.

In addition, an apprenticeship program in the Public Works Agency is only open to Evanston residents.

The memo says city staff is unaware of any nearby suburban communities that have a residency rule for all city employees. And it argues that a residency rule would sharply limit the pool of qualified employees and could expose the city to a risk of litigation.

Starting three decades ago the federal government sued communities in the Chicago suburbs arguing that public employee residency rules they had at the time discriminated against blacks.

While Evanston’s current proportion of whites and blacks is close to the statewide average, the city’s Hispanic population, at 10.5 percent, is substantially below the statewide average of 16.5 percent, while its Asian population, at 9.5 percent is substantially higher than the statewide average of 5 percent.

Residency rules would be subject to union contract negotiations, and, in a survey four years ago, a large proportion of public safety workers said they wouldn’t want to live in the city. 

Some communities, including Elgin and Rockford, pay police officers to move into troubled neighborhoods.

The staff memo says Oak Lawn gives a $6,500 a year residency stipend to any city worker who lives in town. Evanston has on a few occasions provided no-interest mortgage loans to some top-level employees.

In some communities — like Baltimore and Minneapolis — such programs have also been embraced by major employers, including hospitals and universities, for their employees.

Related stories

Pay cops to live in town? (7/14/17)

Most public safety workers don’t want to live here (3/4/13)

Plan would pay cops to live in Evanston (10/1/12)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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