University, city officials evaluate impact of NU’s 2-year live-in requirement


David Lee/The Daily Northwestern

A 5th Ward street. Some city and Northwestern officials said they worry that the University’s new two-year live-in requirement will create unwanted vacancies in the 5th Ward, where many of NU students live.

Catherine Henderson, Reporter

Though some city and Northwestern officials worry that the University’s two-year live-in requirement will create unwanted vacancies in Evanston, others are optimistic about opportunities for affordable housing.

As part of the University’s housing master plan, NU requires second-year students to live on campus starting with the class of 2021. Tony Kirchmeier, assistant dean of students and director of off-campus life, said about 4,000 students and 600 sophomores — roughly a third of the 2020 class — currently live off-campus.

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city has begun to prepare for the housing requirement’s impact, adding he is in discussions with business leaders and renters about possible solutions. He said he is unsure of what will happen next fall.

“Will those apartments be empty?” Bobkiewicz said. “Will they be rented out by non-university individuals? Will we see more families? I think it’s going to be an interesting change.”

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) said she was still working to understand and prepare for the economic impacts on the 5th Ward, where many off-campus students currently live. She said in Evanston, many property owners rely on the student market and may have to shift gears for next fall.

Rue Simmons said it is likely the new requirement will lead to vacancies in her ward.

But Rue Simmons also said the new policy could provide an opening for the city — from the opportunity for more affordable housing units to the benefit of attracting more families to the 5th Ward.

“It has the opportunity to keep families in Evanston that would otherwise have to look outside of the district to find affordable housing,” Rue Simmons said.

Evanston has previously struggled to provide enough affordable housing. According to a study by the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University, there is a 9,927-household demand in Evanston and Skokie, but only 3,945 units are available. NU’s decision could instigate the creation of new units.

Alan Anderson, Northwestern’s executive director of neighborhood and community relations, said the two-year live-in requirement aims to strengthen connections in the student body.

“If you have a strong campus community, that’s only going to help strengthen your identity and relationship to your community,” he said.

Still, Anderson stressed the University’s continued impact on and support for the Evanston community. He said thousands of students still live in the city, including both graduate and undergraduate students.

Rue Simmons also emphasized her continued appreciation for NU students in the community as volunteers, employees and consumers.

“(Northwestern students) generate millions of dollars in economic activity by supporting our businesses and rental housing markets,” Rue Simmons said. “Northwestern students are brilliant, and they add more than they know to the community.”

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