The City Council’s Housing Subcommittee failed again Thursday night to reach consensus on who should be able to live together in Evanston.

Members of the panel, which has been meeting now for more than a year, offered radically different answers to the question Thursday.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the city should abandon its attempts to define “family,” eliminate the long-standing ban on more than three unrelated individuals sharing a housing unit, and rely on the housing code — which sets per-person square footage minimums for dwelling unit sizes — to determine how many people can share a housing unit.

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) suggested making would-be roommates who wanted to share a unit with more than three people go through some sort of special use request process with the city.

The special use request process now is rather elaborate and time-consuming, typically lasting several months, leading Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) to suggest creating a new “relatively expeditious process” that would be “pretty administrative and relatively straight-forward.”

“I don’t know what it would look like,” Revelle added, “but I don’t want us to be creating something that’s really cumbersome.”

The fourth member of the panel, Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) asked staff to come back with more detailed proposals for two options — creating some sort of special use process for approving requests to have more than three unrelated people share a dwelling or switching to relying on the housing code to establish occupancy limits.

Public comment on the ideas was sharply split.

Dominic Voz, a staffer with Open Communities, said the relationship among residents of a building shouldn’t be an issue for city government.

But Jim Swanson, who owns a home on Maple Avenue near the Northwestern University campus, said that with recent changes to permit accessory dwelling units predatory landlords are buying up houses at inflated prices so they can rip them apart by putting in ADUs and then rent to more students.

Let’s accept rooming houses instead, Swanson suggested.

But Interim Community Development Director Sarah Flax said the zoning code currently only allows rooming houses in the R4a zoning district.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. I agree with Ald.Reid’s recommendation of abandoning the requirement of “no more than 3 unrelated persons” renting together and basing decisions based upon acceptable square footage.
    I’m surprised that legal challenges have not been forthcoming previously. Question: are there any such limits placed upon single family homes or families with multiple children? I suspect not.
    I once rented to 4 sisters (of the cloth). The city challenged the legality of my decision. I responded , “ you know, it could be argued that these wonderful tenants are related!” The city, fortunately, bowed off!

    Gretchen Brewster

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