Evanston aldermen are again scheduled to vote tonight on a proposal advocates say would increase the supply of affordable housing by letting owners of coach houses rent them to people who aren’t members of their own family.

Many large Victorian-era homes in Evanston were built with coach houses — detached structures at the back of the lot that contained storage for carriages on the ground level and an apartment above that was intended to provide housing for household staff.

Newly constructed coach houses in the Kendall Place development.

And some large new houses — like those in the Kendall Place development — have recently been built with coach houses as well.

But for several decades Evanston’s city code has barred renting such accessory dwelling units to anyone but members of the family living in the primary house or their household staff.

Since few Evanstonians can afford servants these days, that’s left many coach houses unoccupied, or used as home offices, or rented out illegally.

Aldermen in January asked city staff to develop a proposal for liberalizing the occupancy rules as part of a broader package of ideas intended to increase the supply of housing available to low and moderate income residents.

They also rejected a staff proposal to impose rent control on coach houses, a concept that likely would have run afoul of a state ban on rent control anyway.

The city’s Plan Commission couldn’t agree on whether to recommend changes to the occupancy rules, and when the proposal returned to City Council on April 9, aldermen referred it back to the Planning and Development Committee.

Although aldermen have discussed opening up occupancy rules for various types of accessory dwelling units, the latest version of the proposal from staff would only liberalize the rule for buildings that included a garage — a nod to the traditional architectural definition of a coach house.

That would leave backyard “granny flats” and other forms of accessory dwelling units that don’t include a garage still illegal for rental to non-family members in Evanston.

Update 4/24/18: The coach house proposal was approved for introduction on the City Council’s consent agenda Monday night. A final vote on the measure is expected at the Council’s May 14 meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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