Panel split on ‘family’ rule for housing

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Members of Evanston’s Housing Subcommittee split Tuesday night on whether the city should try to define “family” in its zoning code.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the city shouldn’t be in the business of defining families and instead should set clear rules on how many people can occupy a certain amount of space — without specifying their relationship.

The city’s housing code already includes such square-footage based limits that are based on national housing code standards.

Clare Kelly.

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st), who chairs the subcommittee, disagreed, citing a report from an attorney who supports her view that failing to define family would bar the city from placing restrictions on group homes for persons with disabilities.

That’s a legal stance that Reid says the city’s own attorney’s don’t support.

The city’s zoning code currently offers multiple definitions of “family” and specifies that no more than three unrelated people — who don’t meet the definition of a family — can share a dwelling unit.

Affordable housing groups say the rule creates a housing shortage that inflates rental costs in the city.

But some homeowners near the Northwestern University campus see the rule as a way to discourage student rentals in their neighborhood.

Despite the signs of a split among its members on the issue, the subcommittee never formally got around to discussing the families issue that was on its agenda for Tuesday night.

Kelly let public comment from eight people at the start of the meeting become a dialogue that lasted for a full hour, despite pleas from Reid and Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) to move on to the subcommittee’s agenda items.

Then, after a discussion of the rental registrations and inspections agenda item, Kelly adjourned the meeting at 6:35 p.m., before the scheduled discussion of families and the three-unrelated rule could begin, saying she had to leave to attend another meeting.

The discussion of rental registrations and inspections ended up covering familiar ground — that the city still lacks adequate database software to establish a tiered system of inspections under which problem properties would be inspected more frequently.

The existing system, staff said, also makes it difficult to keep data about rental properties current or to ensure that all landlords are paying city-mandated registration fees.

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October 26, 2022 at 09:58AM

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