Frustration, understanding after Evanston aldermen punt on ordinance vote

Amanda Gilbert, Reporter

Evanston residents and Northwestern students expressed mixed reactions to the Evanston City Council’s decision Monday night to postpone voting on a proposed rental licensing ordinance.

As written, the ordinance would require Evanston landlords to register with the city for a license to operate.

Shortly after the council announced its decision, Steven Monacelli, Associated Student Government’s vice president for community relations, took to Facebook to air his frustrations.

“Spent three hours listening to a room full of angry people only for nothing of significance to happen,” he wrote in the public post. “Thanks Evanston City Council!”

Monacelli, a Communication senior and former Daily columnist, represented NU students on the city’s Rental Unit Licensing Committee, which helped draft the original proposal in June.

Currently, just over 30 percent of Evanston landlords are not registered with the city, Monacelli said. This has caused some students to feel ignored by the city because they are being housed in poor and unsafe living conditions.

“A number of the houses the students are living in are in terrible condition,” Monacelli said. “This puts students between a rock and hard place because they are afraid to call the city for a problem.”

Monacelli said his goal is for the ordinance to protect NU students from absentee landlords and to take a positive step toward occupancy reform. City officials indicated that they will consider amending the over-occupancy rule, colloquially known as the “brothel law,” if they license landlords to follow regulations.

At every meeting, city officials have said they cannot change occupancy rules until the landlords start following the law.

Monacelli said he wanted officials to pass the ordinance but now accepts that voting is being postponed to allow city staff to review the ordinance another time for clarity.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said the point of the ordinance is to provide city staff with the resources they need to deal with problem landlords, including those who don’t regularly maintain their properties and those who only meet minimum standards to pass inspections.

“We just want to make sure the ordinance creates a better living environment for students who live off campus,” Braithwaite said of the decision to postpone the vote.

Supporters of the ordinance say it will ensure the city’s housing regulations are being followed, and called for the city council to pass it at Monday’s meeting. On the other hand, anti-landlord licensing ordinance advocate Howard Handler spoke out against the ordinance to The Daily on Wednesday. Although Handler said he was glad the ordinance was delayed, he would have preferred it to be rejected outright.

The ordinance is a way to discriminate against NU students because it would add to the many rental regulations on those living off campus, said Handler, who is the government affairs director for the Illinois Association of Realtors.

“The proponents of this ordinance are those who live close to campus that want to control the students through housing, and it’s completely illogical,” he said.

Handler said NU students need to be more engaged with the licensing ordinance issues and take steps to defend tenants’ rights.

Monacelli is not convinced that the ordinance discriminates against students. He said NU students are aware of the ordinance and support it, adding that Handler represents landlords and property owners, not the student body.

“The students’ interests will be benefited with the passage of this ordinance,” Monacelli said.