Housing and Community Development Committee, at Civic Center Tuesday night.

“It’s not like someone is snatching the American dream and taking it away.”

So said an advocate for a potential ban on turning small apartment buildings into single family houses.

The city’s Equity and Empowerment Commission is calling for that ban, which would cover 2-4 unit buildings. Rehab would be allowed, but only if the same number of units were preserved.

The commission’s chair, Karla Thomas, outlined the plan before a different panel Tuesday night, the Housing and Community Development Committee.

Karla Thomas.

Thomas said deconversion eats away at the number of affordable housing units.

“In areas where there is so little affordable housing,” Thomas said, “we need to treat it like an endangered species.”

But a member of the Community Development Committee said that denying a person the ability to convert a 2-4 flat they own is “not about losing affordable housing.”

Hugo Rodriguez said a deconversion ban “tak[es] away the individual rights of property owners to do what they want to do with their property,” within the zoning code.

Hugo Rodriguez.

While the debate was emotional, statistics show the problem may not be very great.

Thomas put up a graph which said that 44% of housing deconversions have taken place in the 2nd Ward, more than in any other ward. And 44% sounds like a large number.

But only after questioning by a Community Development panel member did Thomas acknowledge that the 44% total translates to 11 actual deconversions over 13 years … an average of fewer than one per year.

Evanston Now first reported the totals. Over the past 13 years in all of Evanston, including Ward 2, there were 26 deconversions of two-flats to single family houses. That’s an average of two per year. Citywide. (The numbers were obtained from the City via a Freedom of Information Act request).

Committee members seemed sympathetic with the principle of preserving multi-family housing, but may be looking for a way to mix that with private property rights … such as grandfathering the current owner so they can deconvert, but if they sell the apartment building as-is, the new owner would be covered by a ban.

Thomas started her presentation by conceding that she once took part in the very thing she is now trying to prohibit.

At the time, some years ago, Thomas said she converted a multi-flat into a single family house (noting the structure was originally a one-family which had been subdivided).

Thomas said she is “not a hypocrite,” because “I have learned a lot. When you know better, you do better.”

The Housing and Community Development panel will consider the proposed ordinance (and possible changes) some time over the next few months, and then make a recommendation to City Council.

The committee also discussed two far less controversial proposals from Equity and Empowerment. One raises the demolition tax on any residential building from $15,000 to $20,000, plus additional fees for each unit in the structure.

The other, called an “Anti-predatory ordinance,” makes it illegal for developers to repeatedly call or contact a property owner trying to get that owner to sell, once the homeowner has said “leave me alone.”

Thomas said the upcoming new school in the 5th Ward is leading to many such contacts, as part of potential gentrification.

The proposed measure imposes a $2,000-$10,000 fine for each offense over a 180-day period.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) noted that the proposal does not define how many attemps equals “repeated” attempts, so that is something the Housing and Community Development panel will consider as it reviews the demolition tax and predatory calling measures as well as the deconversion ban.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Interesting how Evanston creates its own lexicon to suit the occasion.

    When other cities draw new lines to favor a coalition, party, ethic group, or social class, it’s called “packing” or “gerrymandering”. Here in E-town, it’s innocently called “redistricting to preserve communities of interest.”

    Any other official leading a charge against “bad” behaviors she has personally committed and benefited from would be called a hypocrite or a NIMBY. But in Evanston, you proudly proclaim, “when you know better, you do better”.

    If only our leaders would stop creating euphemisms and spend their time addressing our budget, school, crime, and panhandling issues.

  2. “ But a member of the Community Development Committee said that denying a person the ability to convert a 2-4 flat they own is “not about losing affordable housing.”

    Hugo Rodriguez said a deconversion ban “tak[es] away the individual rights of property owners to do what they want to do with their property,” within the zoning code.”

    Thank you Hugo for your clear headed view on this most ridiculous proposal. That any City committee is spending any amount of time on this proposal to address a non-existent issue is alarming and very unfortunate.

    Please focus on more feasible, facts based, and creative solutions for Evanston’s affordable housing needs.

  3. Thomas has no business being on the Equity Commission. She recently told a school board candidate that he is a member of the KKK just because he’s white. Complete and absolute lie.

    And this proposal is clearly a case of “Ok for me, not for thee”

    Let these private property owners have the right to do what they want with their buildings. SMH.

  4. I thought that historically only about two buildings are deconverted annually. Why are they wasting valuable tax payer resources even discussing this. Whoever brought this up is just absolutely tone deaf and does not care about Evanston. Focus on the major issues.

  5. Should I be surprised that Karla Thomas did not recommend banning short-term, AirBnB rentals in residential areas?

    If you look at AirBnB site there are waaaay more listings in Evanston than two flat to single family home conversions that have taken place.

    If real estate investors like Karla Thomas stopped renting their properties at insane rates ($650 night!), there could be more stable rental properties on the market.

    Many cities have restricted AirBnB for exactly this reason.

    1. Yep, Air BnB is one of the top causes cited for skyrocketing rents. It’s also the downfall of many neighborhoods because of the constant turnover and parties. Karla is a self-serving hypocrite and doesn’t care about our community.

    2. I’m sure before long she will divest herself of any AirBnB properties and claim that she now “knows better and is doing better.”

  6. Why don’t those who want more affordable housing get together and pool their money and resources and get it done? Why does it have to be through social engineering by government? There sure isn’t a lot of affordable housing east of Chicago avenue. I wonder why?

  7. My first home was a two flat that allowed me to buy instead of rent; it was later converted into a single family to accommodate my growing family. The home was in the 9th ward. I am wondering if there has been any conversation around the idea that 2 flats can be affordable at some point in one’s life with a need to convert later. This seems like an obvious need for home buyers to have flexibility for their own future needs. Additionally, as a side note, I recently bought a home that was covered in old growth bushes and half dead trees. I cut them all down, to allow for light to come into the home. If I had waited, I would likely be subjected to some sort of tax or fee to cut those same trees down. Yipes…so many hurdles to making my home into a place that fits my needs.
    Sadly, another big dust up about something that is inconsequential in terms of the numbers of conversions.

  8. Karla Thomas needs to recuse herself from any discussion of the issue of de-converting two -flats based on her past actions. The Lord above may forgive her but until she de-converts her building back to two-flat or gives the amount of profit from that to support an affordable housing charity, it is morally bankrupt for her to be taking part in this discussion on the Equity Committee – even if she did admit regret for her actions that should have been clear to anyone in what obvious effect (2 – 1 = 1) this would have on housing unit availability in Evanston.

    How about we go one step further for housing availability and really make an impact by issuing a Council dictate that all single family houses in Evanston must be converted to two-flats?

  9. Based on the information reported by Evanston Now, notably “Over the past 13 years in all of Evanston, including Ward 2, there were 26 deconversions of two-flats to single family houses.” With over 30,256 households in Evanston*, these deconversions are statistically insignificant and inconsequential. At such a slow pace, outlawing multi-unit building conversions to single family residences does essentially nothing to increase or attract more affordable housing to Evanston.
    Moreover, not everyone needs (or wants) to live in a multi-dwelling affordable housing unit indefinitely. Upgrading one’s standard of living by converting one’s own property to a single family home should not be outlawed simply to create an illusion of equity and fairness.
    Identifying additional funding sources and attracting developers to design/build structurally sound, aesthetically attractive, and affordable housing in Evanston would undoubtedly be much better time spent by the Equity and Empowerment Commission.
    *Source: 2020 US Census – Evanston Households, 2017-2021 https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/evanstoncityillinois

  10. I am a property owner of an Evanston 2-Flat… This committee wants to limit my options on how I will own, maintain and ultimately sell my property because of 11 conversions in 13 years… out of more than 30,000 residential housing units… That is astonishing!

    “In areas where there is so little affordable housing,” Thomas said, “we need to treat it like an endangered species.”

    It’s is my humble opinion that what is endangered in our community is diversity (as well as affordability) with the extraordinary rising costs of living in Evanston… We are tempting fate with whom will be able to afford rent and property taxes in our fair City. People are leaving due to extraordinary rising costs.

    With spending on such amenities as a +$60 Mil Crown Community Center, ~$1000 per sq/ft Animal Shelter, $Millions in consultant fees annually, a New 5th Ward School, $5 Mil Grants (with no strings attached) to developers of homeless shelters, and just the other day voting to finance $17 Mil of Bonds (despite a $25 Mil surplus) piled on $280 Mil in Police and Fire Pension debt… etc. THIS IS JUST NOT SUSTAINABLE in a community with over 100 Tax Exempt Institutions.

    Tell your representatives to say NO to financially irresponsible projects and budget items! And please… VOTE, VOTE, VOTE the status quo out!!!

    Respectfully submitted, Brian G. Becharas

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