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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Ridiculous
    It’s a ridiculous ordinance that of course is discriminatory against Northwestern students. If the problem is noise/parties, then come up with rules that allow nearby residents to complain and enforce those more easily. Don’t come up with arbitrary housing rules that indirectly try to address an issue — address it directly!

    Like Mr. Halim said, Northwestern students are among the brightest in the country and I’m sure the vast vast majority of them are good and reasonable neighbors. We should bar four Philosophy PhD students from sharing a house, why?? Obviously, there’s going to be parties at some point – it’s a college! – but you think that’s not going to happen if only three baseball players live in a house? Give me a break.

    Evanston is not being a very good neighbor to Northwestern. If you don’t like living near students, then don’t buy a place near a major University. It’s not like Northwestern just showed up, it’s been here longer than Evanston. And I can sympathize with neighbors about noise, etc. but having a discriminatory ordinance on the books to try to remedy it is not the way. Instead, we should be encouraging neighbors to develop relationships with each other (especially if they’re students!). That will likely lead to more respect and forewarning of events occurring. And then enforce other rules on the books if necessary, but I think people should be more understanding of students.

    Seeing the alderman just kick the can on this issue is disappointing.

  2. Clearly, the people

    Clearly, the people supporting the repeal of the occupancy limitation, do not live in neighborhoods impacted by the negative effects of buildings housing Northwestern students.  Despite the fact that the students are attending an elite school, kids will be kids.  Visit our neighborhood on warm weekends and game days.  I think that you will be in favor of protecting permanent citizens of the city, rather than temporary residents.

  3. N.U. Students

    I did not buy a home in a neighborhood full of student occupied residences.  Many of us have been impacted by investors buying houses and leasing them to students, with little consideration for the owner occupied homes.  Being an “elite” university has no implication,at all, on the behavior of students during their free time.  Would the writer suggest that we all sell our homes to accommodate temporary residents?

  4. Does this policy apply to our
    Does this policy apply to our beloved semi-permanent street ornaments who live on the sidewalk downtown? There are way more than three.

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