A property at 1816 Greenwood St. with its conversion to a single-family home underway in August 2018. (Google Maps image)

While some residents fight the creation of more affordable housing in Evanston, others are hoping to create barriers to more affluent people moving here.

Despite substantial opposition from neighbors, the City Council last week voted in favor of a new affordable housing development in the 1800 block of Church Street.

Tuesday night the Equity and Empowerment Commission will ask the Housing and Community Development Committee to support proposals that would prohibit turning small apartment buildings into single family homes, increase the demolition tax and discourage developers from seeking properties to acquire.

Conversions of apartment buildings to single family homes have averaged just two per year in Evanston since the turn of the century.

Equity and Empowerment Commission Chair Karla Thomas is one of the people who deconverted a two flat. Thomas, who’s pushing to bar other people from doing what she did, says “I can’t go back in time to undo that.”

The proposed ordinance would bar any reduction in the unit count of two- to four-flat buildings, although it appears almost all the recent conversions have involved two flats turned into single family homes.

Most of the deconversions have occurred in the 2nd, 4th and 9th wards.

Different versions of the demolition tax ordinance amendment in the committee packet propose raising the fee from $15,000, plus a consumer price index adjustment, to either $20,000 or $25,000 for a single family home and also increasing fees for multi-unit teardowns.

The city’s 2023 budget indicates the demo tax raised $76,650 in 2020 and $15,453 in 2021. That suggests there were a total of six housing units demolished in that two-year period.

Most recent teardowns have occurred in the 6th and 7th wards, and the replacement homes have sold for well over $1 million.

The third proposal would prohibit what it describes as “predatory” tactics by residential real estate developers.

It would bar them from contacting a homeowner more than once in six months, once the owner had indicated he or she was not interested in selling.

The ordinance would provide for fines of $2,000 to $10,000 for each offense.

It is not clear from the wording of the proposed ordinance whether it would also apply to real estate brokers who were seeking a listing to sell the property, or only to developers who hoped to purchase the site for redevelopment to another use.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Chicago has looked at similar barriers (https://www.chicagotribune.com/politics/ct-chicago-city-council-february-meeting-20210224-alb66d5huzajzioroc4b7tq66m-story.html).

    I question whether it is reasonable to expect policy which increases the cost of building housing (assuming demolishing old housing has to be done before building), is going to stop housing from getting more expensive. Developers select sites to develop because they believe the land is getting more valuable. Higher valued land is going to put upward pressure on cost to occupy it one way or another, IMO.

  2. Imagine being so woke that you would actively discourage the wealthy from moving in and and contributing to your own economy and thus your tax base.

    1. Imagine owning a house you want to sell and unlock the value in it only to find that these rules and the mismanagement of D65 schools has destroyed the value of it.

  3. Fall from grace!

    Remember when the residents adjacent to the former Kendall College insisted on R-1, and now several staffers and alders want R-1 totally eliminated.


    How did the “values” of this town do a complete reversal in a scant 24 months?

    Prohibiting the conversion from multi to single units has an impact on the property value, and in no way should that be allowed.

    Disband the committee that made this suggestion.

    How did that committee come into being?

    What will it take to see it eliminated?

    It’s likely that most Evanstonian’s are ignorant of the dramatic changes that this mayor and council are about.

    Further, the mayor and set of alders have no mandate since they were elected by so few who took the time to vote.

    It’s time for new direction in Evanston – a direction that the Honorable Lorraine Morton presided over so well!

  4. Any community needs the right balance of economic locomotives and cabooses. With the spending habits of city council and D65 it sure looks like the city needs more locomotives, not less. Enough with the amateur social engineering and knee-jerk urban planning efforts by part-time city council! Planned communities should start from scratch (like Sun City) and be bought into by those of like minds, not by trying to social engineer by fiat an existing community that people have bought into already, UNLESS you are taking a referendum on that specific plan. Let people do what they want with their two flat that they paid for. Unless the government is buying someone’s two flat, it is offensive for government to try to determine how it should be used if it is meeting size requirements. And if you have already converted your two flat to single family as the Equity Chair has, then it is simply outrageous and the height of hypocrisy to be suggesting this no longer be permitted for others: “Do what I say, not what I do.”, “Good for me, not for thee.”

  5. Yet another lecture from our moral arbiter, our gentrifier in chief, Ms Thomas. Sure you can undo it. Send the money back. Do the work. Or continue to lecture moral heathens on Facebook and show up with your pack of bullies screaming at everyone at political events, whichever works.

  6. A few comments:

    1. The word affluent conjures up several ideas and definitions and in this case seems to imply wealth. Residential and commercial housing restoration and building is done by developers, home owners, non-profits, and cities. Not all of these entities are necessarily “wealthy” or affluent.

    2. If the Equity and Empowerment Committee’s proposed ordinances are targeting the wealthy as this article’s title suggests, where is the equity in that? Isn’t this deliberately treating a certain class of people differently? There’s a name for that.

    3. Evanston is in no position to further restrict and deter development of any kind. Especially when the development can result in a stronger tax base.

    4. If conversions have averaged 2 per year, what is the problem this committee is trying to solve with these ordinances? Seems as though they are making stuff up to give the committee something to do.

    5. Shame on hypocrite Karla Thomas.

  7. Here we go again. This government of ours is trying to stop people from getting ahead because success is considered non equitable. I agree that equity is an issue, but controlling our lives is more like Russia and N. Korea. How is that working for those countries?

  8. It’s the Roger’s Parkificafication of Evanston. I moved out years ago. I encourage everyone to leave.

  9. I’m very disappointed in Evanston Now’s framing of this proposed policy as a way to prevent affluent people from moving here. All of the data shows that housing costs in Evanston are going up, and the majority of new units are market rate and/or luxury condos. There is no shortage of housing for affluent people in Evanston; there is for Black, brown, and poor residents who are being priced out of the city by rising rents and avoidable property tax increases. Banning deconversions prevents the destruction of naturally-occurring affordable housing and the depletion of our housing supply, which keeps housing prices low. The rich have the resources to live here: that’s never been the issue.

    1. Hi Jonah,
      There hasn’t been a significant new condo development in Evanston since before the housing market collapse 15 years ago. Where have you been?

      The vast majority of new construction since then has been of rental apartments.

      Since 2010 the city has added 283 new units of affordable rental housing, much of it as affordable units in market rate developments under the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance.

      While trying to find more affordable housing for its low income residents, the city also needs to attract more residents with relatively high incomes to be able to pay for its extensive program of government services.

      One likely result of this proposal is that more aging two-flats will be demolished — rather than renovated — and replaced with new-construction single family homes — at a substantially higher environmental cost.

      — Bill

      1. Bill, forgive my imprecision on the issue of condos vs. rentals, but I think my point still stands. The many new high rise rental apartment buildings popping up within a mile of downtown largely cater to the wealthy. You can’t rent a market-rate studio at the Albion for cheaper than $1850/month: https://units.realtydatatrust.com/unitavailability.aspx?ils=6892&fid=126884

        True: the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance provides for a minority of subsidized and cheaper units in these buildings, but 283 new affordable units in 13 years is a fraction of what we need to make our city affordable for those of all incomes who want to live here. We are building housing for the wealthy and upper middle class at a much higher rate than we are for the working and lower middle classes. Perhaps over several years this increased supply reduces housing prices overall citywide, but a struggling family whose rent just went up can’t afford to wait that long.

        The wealthy are enticed by our world class university, our lakefront, and our
        downtown. And there is plenty of housing for them! I’m not worried that this will change because the passage of this ordinance ends up preventing the roughly 2 deconversions per year that you report are happening in the city, nor that this modest measure will have anything more than a negligible impact on the City’s coffers (and the ability to pay for government services, which you warn is threatened).

        To your prediction that old two-flats will be demolished and replaced with single family homes through demolition rather than renovation, I’d argue that beyond this proposed ordinance, the zoning code should be revised to prohibit the building of single family homes on lots which previously held multiple units.

        The bottom line: allowing affluent home-buyers and real estate investors to increase their wealth by cutting into our city’s affordable housing supply is regressive and wrong. Period.

        1. Hi Jonah,

          So, in recent years about six modest single family homes a year have been torn down and replaced with million-dollar-plus single family homes — and that’s happening mostly in the the city’s least economically diverse wards — the 6th and 7th in north Evanston. If a property owner wants to do that, they just pay a fee of about $16K to the city. And that process destroys six relatively modest, relatively affordable homes a year.

          But you think its a great idea to completely bar deconversion of two-flats — mostly in the more diverse 2nd and 4th wards — totally thwarting what the property owner may wish to do with their property, even though an average of only two two-flats are converted to single family homes each year.

          If you had any desire to be equitable in your treatment of property owners, wouldn’t you either:
          A. Just impose a deconversion fee on the two-flat owner similar to the teardown tax on single family homes, or
          B. Totally ban demolition of single family homes?

          Or do you just feel that two-flat owners are some lesser form of life whose interests the city should be free to run roughshod over while letting single family home owners build their McMansions?

          — Bill

    2. Jonah, your comments were right on! the beauty of Evanston is that it is not like a typical suburb, but rather like a small town. We want to have all kinds of housing and we especially need affordable housing. Unfortunately, Evanston is going in the direction of unaffordable housing and we must do what we can to help those who need affordable housing. its sooo important!

  10. The amount of bad policy that come from Karla Thomas and Stacy Beardsley in this town is insane. What Stacy Beardsley has done to district 65 is infuriating. So frustrating and such hypocrites. Thomas is the last person we should be listening when it comes to the topic of affordable housing. The fact that they bought a property in what was an important affordable neighborhood for $150,000 and now rent it out for $650 a night on Airbnb when there is an affordable housing shortage is just beyond laughable. See it for yourself: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2042917?source_impression_id=p3_1679350708_Q%2FmlAluW855xDvXg – such a hypocrite!

  11. This Is Just Wrong
    My home was a two flat when I bought it but was recognized by the Evanston Preservation Commission as a significant landmark residence. Originally it was built as a single family home which in real estate terms is its highest and best use.
    What gives the Equity and Empowerment Commission the right to dictate to me who I can sell my home to? What if I have to sell my two flat for personal or economic reasons? You are going to limit its marketability and value if I cannot consider a young family looking for more space who want to reconvert to single family. As the Evanston Now link shows, conversions of apartment buildings to single family homes averaged two per year if that since the turn of the century; at that rate how will the proposal make a serious dent in our housing issues?
    Apart from the proposal being blatantly discriminatory towards a certain group of homeowners, it raises many questions. Will it include every subject property in the city? Will it exclude landmark homes? Will it exclude senior citizen or all owner-occupied properties? Will the proposal only apply to properties originally built as two flats? Will the proposal only apply to investment properties? Will the proposal grandfather current properties? I see fertile ground for litigation and extra legal costs for the city
    It is incredulous that the Equity and Empowerment Commission Chair Karla Thomas converted a two flat into a single family home but will not support the right of other families to do that. Is that your definition of Equity and Empowerment Karla?
    Bottom Line: disallowing the tiny number of conversions that may occur will not solve the city’s housing issues, but it will limit the legal rights of small apartment building owners to sell their property. It is unfair and sends the wrong message to potential Evanston homeowners and taxpayers.

  12. I frequently visited my aunt in Rogers Park in the 70’s and 80’s while growing up in Wisconsin. We would often go grocery shopping in Evanston and for a real treat she would sometimes take us to dinner at The Keg.

    I recall her saying how expensive Evanston was to live in and that’s why she lived in Rogers Park. Now that I live here I tend to agree with her, and I’m thankful I can afford it. Some may consider me “affluent” and I would hope that I wouldn’t face discriminatory practices because of that. All residents, regardless of socioeconomic status, should feel welcome in this community.

    These proposed ordinances make no sense and would only hurt future development and growth of ALL kinds of housing. It doesn’t appear the members of the Equity and Empowerment Committee are qualified in this space whatsoever.

    1. EXACTLY! If I wanted to live in Rogers Park, I would have bought property there. This is ludicrous. There will be no one left to pay the taxes that fund this nonsense.

  13. Policies that undermine property values and discriminate against owners who can afford Evanston’s excessive property taxes are not conducive to the long term fiscal health of a city that seems determined to subsidize housing for the poor.

    It really isn’t that hard to find another nearby place to move to. The current council is committing civic suicide.

  14. Regarding proposed increased demolition fees, take the house down the street from me — please! Small, over a century old, it suffers from an abundance of deferred maintenance. Part of the exterior seems to be separating from the main structure. Rather than increasing the cost of demolition, the City should be providing an incentive to tear down the building before some occupant, neighbor, or passer-by gets hurt.
    Regarding a proposed ban on converting two-flats, if such housing is deemed desirable, the City should provide incentives to build new two-flats and require that they be maintained as such for a period of years. But changing the rules as to existing two-flats will not contribute to neighborhood improvement or even utilizing property for its highest and best use. Rather, it will just hurt current owners by restricting their use, limiting their options, and maybe deflating their retirement funds. Not good policy, and not nice.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *