More than a year ago, the current city council set up a housing planning and development sub-committee to tackle some major issues that have plagued Evanston for years, including the enforcement of housing standards rental property and the still-controversial “Rule of Three Unrelated”, which prohibits no more than three people from renting the same apartment or house unless they count as a “family” as defined by the city.

Although it has spent months debating these topics and hearing residents’ opinions, the subcommittee has yet to make any formal recommendations on either topic to the Planning and Development Committee. expanded.

The city’s housing planning and development subcommittee meets in August. In this session, the panel began discussing the rule of three unrelated. Credit: Duncan Agnew

Instead, the group has only met nine times out of the 19 meetings scheduled since October 2021, with the remaining meetings canceled or postponed. Initially, the new city council that joined in the spring of 2021 expressed support for eliminating the city’s narrow definition of family and creating a new system that would require all property owners to obtain a license to manage their rental properties.

But over the months of subcommittee meetings that followed, city staff, residents and invited experts raised concerns on both proposals. The panel hit a dead endand board members of the sub-committee dropped rental license proposal in favor of stricter enforcement of the city’s existing rent registration system.

During the group’s final virtual meeting on Tuesday evening, City Council members Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, and Devon Reid, 8th Ward, repeatedly asked Subcommittee Chair and First Ward Council Member Clare Kelly limit public comment and conversation to items not on the meeting agenda. . Kelly disagreed, arguing that it’s always important for council to hear from members of the public about their concerns about housing and zoning.

“We have now spoken for the last 20 minutes about three recommendations that come out of [another] working group,” Burns said. “Moving forward, please allow these recommendations to be discussed during planning and development, and if we need to contribute anything to this work, we can. But let’s not waste time. We just discussed things that are on our way to planning and development, and we didn’t really get to get into the thick of it.

Fifth Ward council member Bobby Burns. Credit: Richard Cahan

The recommendations Burns referred to involve new ideas for the city to keep track of rental properties, but Kelly said she sees those topics as part of the “mainstream of the discussion as well.”

The main item on Tuesday’s agenda for the subcommittee meeting, however, was a conversation about the unrelated rule of three.

In recent subcommittee meetings, including Tuesday, Reid has repeatedly expressed his view that the unrelated rule of three harms local access to affordable housing by preventing people from living together as a group to save money on rent.

“I hope we can have more regulated meetings to get to the heart of what we’re trying to do here, but I don’t believe the city should be in the business of defining families and forcing landlords or other people to define what a family is,” Reid said. “We want to make sure we have clear codes on how many people can occupy a certain amount of living space, but we don’t want to define families.”

Echoing Reid’s comments, Nefrette Halim, who owns and rents a large number of properties in Evanston, said she often felt uncomfortable asking her tenants if they were related or what type of relationship they maintained.

Other residents who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said they feared a “population explosion” around the Northwestern University campus if the city eliminated the definition of family and the unrelated rule of three. A person living in the area closest to the college added that a rule change will “quickly destroy neighborhoods around the northwest” due to overcrowded student accommodation and loud parties.

But others, including Halim, have argued that the unbound three rule doesn’t necessarily affect student housing. Lisa Pildes, who lived in the Firemen’s Park neighborhood of Evanston for several decades, said many families would likely prefer to live near a home of four quiet North West students who abide by local laws, than a noisy and unruly apartment of only three students.

The number of tenancy inspections per block conducted by the city in 2021. Credit: City of Evanston

In any case, the subcommittee — and the city as a whole — has yet to find a solution to this debate over what a family is and how many unrelated people should be allowed to live together in a unit. .

One point of progress, however, is that the city’s property inspection team is working on creating a map of registered rental properties that would be publicly accessible and searchable. That way, tenants and landlords should be able to more easily identify unregistered properties, according to Angel Schnur, property maintenance supervisor.

Still, even with some signs of movement on those topics, some residents watching Tuesday’s meeting wanted to see the city make some real decisions when it comes to rent registration enforcement and the unrelated Rule of Threes.

“I don’t see this committee as taking the whole-city approach,” Pildes said, asking council members to be more aggressive in tackling these issues. “I know you talk about it, but I haven’t seen you make any progress on it, and I’d like to see that.”