Although they conceded they had only anecdotes about how often it happens, members of Evanston’s Equity and Empowerment Commission moved forward with plans Thursday to draft an ordinance to ban conversion of two- and three-flat apartment buildings to single family homes.
They acted after listening to Chicago Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), a member of the Council’s Democratic Socialist Caucus, describe a similar ordinance adopted there to discourage gentrification in certain city neighborhoods, including the Pilsen neighborhood he represents on the city’s lower west side.
Sigcho-Lopez, who spoke over Zoom for more than a half hour before pausing to take questions or comments, described his work opposing development in the area starting long before he was elected to the City Council in 2019.
He said homeowners in his neighborhoods were being harassed by real estate developers who wanted to buy their properties. Months after his election, the City Council adopted an ordinance prohibiting developers from contacting homeowners for six months after they’ve indicated they’re not interested in selling.
“Realtors are looking at our communities as gold mines,” Sigcho-Lopez said, “Housing is a human right.”
Sigcho-Lopez said he wants to lift the statewide ban on rent control because “now we’re not even able to give incentives for owners who keep rent affordable.”
And he called for requiring landlords to pay tenants compensation when their leases are not renewed.
Ald. Devon Reid (8th), a member of the commission, said he’s seeking a “just cause eviction ordinance” for Evanston that would increase the notice required for non-renewal of leases from the current 30 days to 60 or 90 days and require landlords to provide relocation assistance.
Asked by Commissioner Jane Grover what data he had to show the effectiveness of the deconversion ban and restrictions on teardowns, Sigcho-Lopez said there “was relatively little citywide data” but that it had been effective in “a handful of cases in his own community.”
The only Evanston example of a two-flat deconversion was provided by Commission Chair Karla Thomas.
“I live in a home that I deconverted from a two-flat to a single family home,” Thomas said, “I can’t go back in time to undo that.”
Evanston Now has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city for data on how many deconversions have occurred in the city in recent years.
Thomas also said the committee would work on an update to the city’s teardown ordinance, which now imposes a tax of $15,000 for demolishing a single family home.