Despite over an hour of public comment and discussion, aldermen appeared to make little progress Monday on resolving the controversy surrounding Evanston’s ordinance limiting to three the number of unrelated people who can share a dwelling unit.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, urged repeal of the ordinance, saying it unfairly targets people because of their lack of family relationship ties. “It’s discriminating against a class of residents for an improper purpose,” he said.
And, he argued, the ordinance does nothing to fix the concerns residents have about nuisance issues — which continue to be a problem despite the ordinance.
Repeal, he said, “would be an incremental step toward achieving a more equitable community.”
Northwestern University students say they’re forced by the high cost of housing in Evanston to share apartments with more than two other people, and that they then are pressured by landlords not to report property standards violations for fear they’d be evicted for violating the occupancy limit.
But some long-time homeowners in the near-campus neighborhood say repeal of the ordinance would open the floodgates to a wave of conversions of single family homes to student rentals.
They said one home was recently bought by the mother of an NU baseball player who planned to have all of her son’s teammates live there until neighbors objected, citing the occupancy limit.
Robin Rue Simmons.
Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said she’s concerned about both the conditions students are living in and the quality of life for long-time residents. She suggested that, based on what she’s heard about what’s happening on other campuses, it might make sense to raise the occupancy limit from three to four, rather than repealing the rule entirely.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, suggested postponing the debate until the fall, so the city can see what the impact of the university’s new rule requiring sophomores to live on campus will be.
Assistant City Manager Erika Storlie said NU officials have told her that about 7,200 NU students live off-campus in Evanston now.
Each undergraduate class at NU has about 2,000 students, and less than half of sophomores now live off-campus. But the new rule could still mean a sharp decrease in rental demand in the near-campus area.
But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, suggested the reduced demand would likely just lead to an increase in requests for vacation rental licenses from landlords trying to fill their units.
Wilson suggested splitting the issue into two items — one focused on repeal of the occupancy limit, the other focused on ways the city could increase enforcement of the nuisance premises ordinance.
But despite Wilson’s request, Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, who was chairing the committee meeting, refused to agree to schedule a future discussion of the issue.