Letter to the Editor: Ald. Fiske’s inaction on brothel law could cost her student support

For the past few weeks, Evanston’s City Council agenda has included an item of great importance to many Northwestern students: the brothel law.

Don’t let the thought of scattered garter belts or callers in the dead of night fool you — if you live in an apartment with more than two non-related roommates, you’re apparently a denizen in one of Evanston’s many illegal “brothels.” The three-unrelated ordinance, as it is properly known, has long attracted ire from students, who point out that the rule makes it difficult for them to find affordable housing off campus without leaving one or more roommates off the lease.

At a meeting of the Planning and Development Committee about two weeks ago, as well a meeting on Monday, Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) and Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) spoke in favor of repealing the ordinance. And while some Evanstonians support the proposed ideas of eliminating the ordinance or raising the limit to a four-unrelated maximum, the brothel law will not continue as an item of formal council discussion because Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) refused to agree to schedule a future discussion of the matter.

The 1st Ward encompasses most of South Campus and includes those students living in South Campus dorms or apartments in downtown Evanston. Her reasoning for supporting the ordinance is questionable: At Monday’s meeting, she noted that “we need to educate students about how to sign leases, how to enter into leases, how to protect themselves.” She has also argued that the city cannot consider the future of the ordinance without waiting to see how the new two-year housing requirement at NU will affect off-campus housing.

While Fiske’s opposition seems like the product of some odd but well-intentioned reasoning, it’s important to know that Fiske has a contentious history regarding students. In 2005, after losing her bid for the aldermanic seat to Cheryl Wollin by 81 votes, Fiske filed a lawsuit against Northwestern, claiming the University bribed students by throwing a pizza party to raise awareness about the election, and as a result, 200 student votes needed to be thrown out. The pizza party, it turns out, was open to students who didn’t vote as well as those who did, and Fiske’s lawsuit was dismissed in 2006 after many months of drama.

It can be difficult as a student to muster up the energy to follow or care about local politics — school is stressful and all-encompassing, many students are more invested in the local politics of their hometowns and a lot of what goes on in City Council is, honestly, pretty boring. But issues like the brothel law create problems for students every year, and if we don’t pay attention and stay involved, we end up with representatives who don’t actually represent us as students.

What I’d like Fiske to realize is that the brothel law unfairly discriminates against those who need to live with roommates and share bedrooms in order to affordably live in Evanston. In my time at Northwestern, I’ve known multiple students who had to leave a roommate off the lease or even find new housing at the last minute because of this poorly designed ordinance.

My fellow students are I are shrewd and resourceful and can be assisted by some combination of parents, siblings, friends, mentors and the University’s Off-Campus Life Office in figuring out how to sign a lease. And deferring even a discussion of the ordinance while the two-year housing requirement unfolds doesn’t make sense. Students aren’t living with many roommates due to a lack of available off-campus apartments; they’re doing it because it is more affordable and more convenient that way.

Fiske, I know that we students are likely not long-term residents of Evanston and that we aren’t fluffy, misunderstood creatures like the local skunks for whom you have so nobly advocated, but at the end of the day, we’re your constituents, too. If you can’t at least schedule future discussion in committee for a policy change that a large portion of your ward ardently supports, then we may have no choice but to vote against you in 2021.

—Rachel Hawley, Weinberg junior