Evanston Affordable Housing Efforts

Evanston City Council had its most recent quarterly Affordable Housing meeting on January 29.

Key Decisions:
  • The City will move forward with legalizing the rental of ancillary dwelling units (like coach houses and above-garage units) to non-family members.
  • They will continue to refine their proposal for a pilot Landlord Rehab Assistance Program.
Points of Discussion:

  • 3-Unrelated Ordinance: A team of advocates from the Northwestern University student body did a great job making the case to change the "brothel law" that prohibits more than 3 unrelated adults from living in any one unit. They proposed that the ordinance be changed to allow 4 unrelated adults. Alderman Rainey suggested removing the limit completely and regulating the number of people allowed per square foot, a regulation that is already in place. Council did not take any action on this ordinance, but it looks like there is appetite to do so.
Suggested action: Talk to your aldermen about eliminating this ordinance from the City Code..

  • Ancillary Dwelling Units: The Council determined to legalize renting coach houses, garages, and similar habitable units to non-family members without imposing any restrictions on tenant income (i.e., requiring that they only rent to people at a certain AMI or lower). They were concerned that such rent restrictions might be illegal and that they might also be unfair or burdensome for landlords who need the extra income. City staff will develop wording for an ordinance to move forward.
Suggested action: The Council did NOT discuss putting incentives in place that would encourage landlords to make ancillary units available to people with lower incomes. We should be suggesting this.

  • Pilot Landlord Rehab Assistance Program: This is a proposed program for the City to make forgivable loans to landlords who have affordable units to use for building repairs and rehab. Council members suggested several changes to the proposed program:
    • Providing the loan to landlords upfront instead of asking the landlords to pay for the improvements and then reimbursing them
    • Increasing the minimum duration of affordability from 5 years to longer
  • Ensuring that there is a cap on how much/how often landlords can use the program (it was stated that there is a cap already).
The Council also discussed whether the program should primarily focus on current affordable housing landlords or on potential new ones. We see this as primarily a preservation program and are glad that the Council determined that current landlords should be the primary targets for this program. As a next step, City staff will draft proposed language around this program.

  • Rooming Houses: Council had a long and involved discussion about the pros and cons of rooming houses, with no real conclusion. We will follow up to determine what the City's next step is here.
  • Affordable Housing Planning! At the end of the meeting, Alderman Revelle asked what the City is going to do about a more detailed and comprehensive plan related to affordable housing. Key points of the conversation included: 
    • Mayor Hagerty recommended that this task begin and that it be delegated to the Housing & Homelessness Commission. 
    • Alderman Rainey asked that the task be put off until after the IHO sub-committee make its recommendations.
 The Council seems to have referred development of a plan to the Housing & Homerlessness Commission.

Suggested action: We would like to see the planning process begin BEFORE the IHO Sub-Committee makes its recommendations. Unless the Sub-Committee has a good sense of the affordable housing goals and strategies that the City wants to engage in, it cannot make informed decisions about how the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance can and should be used to fulfill those goals and support those strategies. If nothing else, Planning and IHO discussions should be happening simultaneously with at least some overlap.

Agenda Items Not Discussed:
  • Steps Toward Homeownership: Council referred this item to the Plan Commission. 
  • Evanston Rental Program to Address Affordable Housing Needs: This is the rental assistance program that Alderman Rainey proposed. She asked that Council hold off on discussion of this proposal until after the IHO Sub-Committee makes its recommendations.