Apartments on Sherman Avenue. (Google Maps)

In Evanston, it is illegal for more than three unrelated adults to live in one apartment or house.

This restriction, documented in the city’s zoning code, is often referred to as “the three-unrelated rule” or more colorfully as “the brothel law.”

Although the rule is examined every few years, it has remained in place. Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, an advocacy coalition led by Connections for the Homeless, is grateful to Alderman Don Wilson for referring the rule to the Plan Commission for new consideration and possible repeal.

His referral led to the Zoning Committee discussion on Feb. 24, which highlighted why repeal of the law has been difficult to achieve so far. The committee is scheduled to take up the proposal again when it meets at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The most persistent argument in support of the rule is that it is perceived as a way to minimize the conversion of single-family homes for use by Northwestern University students–with accompanying changes in neighborhood character and an increased frequency of nuisance behavior by students.

Joining Forces opposes the rule because

  1. it limits the ability of people who can’t afford their own housing to reduce their costs by sharing housing with others, and
  2. it has failed to prevent conversion of single-family homes into student housing or relieve the stress on neighbors of student “party houses.”

Joining Forces advocates that this law be repealed and that the city change its zoning code to:

  • Remove occupancy limits that are based on relationships among tenants; and
  • Establish limits based on objective measures, such as number of people per bedroom or per square foot that will allow full use of the property while preserving resident safet.

Sharing housing has always been a survival strategy for people who cannot afford housing on their own. The three-unrelated rule prohibits this strategy, even criminalizes it. By repealing the rule, Evanston can take immediate action to increase affordable housing opportunities, with no cost in subsidies or programming.

Joining Forces has other objections to the three unrelated rule including:

  1. The rule is discriminatory and perpetuates inequity and exclusion.
  2. Zoning is not an appropriate tool with which to manage resident behavior.
  3. The law sets arbitrary limits that fail to prevent overcrowding.
  4. Enforcement of the law is highly unlikely and a poor use of city resources.
  5. The rule is an ineffective tool for managing neighborhood change.

Read more about Joining Forces’ objections to the three-unrelated rule here.

We ask residents to express their support for changing this restrictive and unfair ordinance by communicating about it with their aldermen, and we ask the City Council to repeal the three-unrelated rule.

Sue Loellbach is manager of advocacy for Joining Forces for Affordable Housing and Connections for the Homeless

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.