A property at 1816 Greenwood St. seen in the midst of a deconversion project in 2018. (Google Maps image)

Evanston’s Equity and Empowerment Commission wants the city to ban deconversion of two-flat apartment buildings to single family homes.

But, at a meeting last month, commission members conceded they only had anecdotes about how often such deconversions — which are seen as bringing gentrification to some Chicago neighborhoods — actually happen in Evanston.

So, Evanston Now filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city seeking information on all such conversions from 2010 through this year.

What we got in response was data indicating that such conversions have ranged from zero to four per year over the 13 year period — averaging just two per year.

The latest available data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey indicates that Evanston has 12,090 occupied rental housing units.

That’s believed to be an undercount, but until housing data from the 2020 decennial census is released, it’s the latest federal government estimate.

Assuming all the two-flats involved had one unit occupied by an owner before conversion and that the converted single family homes were also owner-occupied, that would mean such conversions reduced the rental housing stock by about 0.2% over the 13 year period.

Some of the properties deconverted recently appear to have been originally constructed well over a century ago as single family homes, then likely subdivided decades later when financially strapped owners needed extra income.

A vintage two-flat at 833 Mulford St. permitted for conversion to a single family home last year. (2018 Google Maps image)

Others had been purpose-built as two flats in the 1920s when Evanston’s population was rapidly increasing.

Most of the two-flats converted have been relatively modest in size, and combining them added slightly to the number of homes in Evanston suitable for larger, sometimes multi-generational families — a type of housing that many activists say is in short supply in the city.

Data from the Cook County Assessor indicates that the median size of the combined units was 2,558 square feet.

Eighteen of the deconversions have occurred in the city’s “R3” zone, which the city code says is “intended to provide for infill development of single- and two-family residences in moderate density neighborhoods.”

The “R3” zone permits construction on lots of 5,000 square feet and with 35 feet of street frontage.

That allows considerably more density than in the city’s “R1” zone, where only single-family homes are now permitted and lot size minimums are 7,200 square feet with 50 feet of frontage.

Deconversions have been most common in the 2nd Ward. It has seen 11 since 2010. Four each have occurred in the 4th and 9th Wards, two each in the 5th and 7th Wards and one each in the 3rd and 8th Wards.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. So what is the purpose of the Equity Panel again, other than look for non-issues to complain about to justify their existence? How about instead of finding reasons to divide they find reasons to support Evanston and its people?

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