City Council strikes down proposed moratorium on accessory dwelling units


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. A proposed accessory dwelling unit moratorium failed at City Council Monday night.

Ilana Aroughetti and Jorja Siemons

City Council struck down a proposed six-month moratorium on the construction of non-landlord-occupied internal accessory dwelling units Monday.

ADUs are defined as small living units situated within existing residential properties, featuring their own bathroom and kitchen. Used in student areas, they bypass housing laws preventing more than three unrelated persons from living together. The proposal was rejected, in part, due to concerns about the loss of accessible housing options for families, Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said. 

“People are really troubled by the idea that we’re going to place a moratorium on something that is meant to provide, in their opinions, a greater level of affordability and much needed units to the community,” Burns, a founding member of an Evanston-based ADU development group, said. 

ADUs also serve as private dwellings for elderly or disabled residents living within larger family homes, which extends their impact beyond student housing.

Resident Ivan Home said the proposed moratorium would make it harder to care for his elderly parents. Home intended to build an ADU for his parents within his residence, but would have been unable to finish before the moratorium kicked in.

Some community members believe ADUs disrupt family life by increasing housing prices and creating noise violations. But Home is among several residents who oppose the moratorium due to ADUs’ potential to create flexible housing.

“In the midst of a housing crisis, the moratorium will limit the entire community’s housing options and flexibility in a way that may provide benefits only in a very small part of the community,” said Sue Loellbach, manager of advocacy at Connections for the Homeless. 

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) agreed, calling the proposed moratorium the “wrong tool” for the issue at hand. 

Braithwaite, along with other alderpeople, said the creation of internal ADUs has been most disruptive in areas with high concentrations of off-campus Northwestern student housing, referred to as “mini-dorms” by Ald. Clare Kelly (1st). 

However, abolishing ADUs entirely would come at a heavy cost to some residents like Home who have been trying alternative forms of affordable housing. When built with care and without absentee landlords, Braithwaite said ADUs can stabilize neighborhoods. 

“(The proposed moratorium) is an assault on affordable housing and the work that was done previously,” Braithwaite said. “The support for (ADUs) was community-wide.”

After the moratorium’s rejection, the true impact of internal ADUs on Evanston’s real estate market will be scrutinized by people on both sides of the issue. 

Kelly said she worries the high cost of home ownership in areas with many ADUs may ultimately thwart affordable housing efforts by causing rent prices to spike citywide.

“The word ‘moratorium’ sounds harsh, but in fact this is about affordability,” Kelly said. “I’m concerned that we’re all reacting kind of politically without really fully understanding the ramifications citywide.”

While Kelly predicted that tonight’s vote would inspire a rush of new ADU construction, Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said there have been few new internal ADU requests in recent months.

As ADU construction continues in Evanston, some community members and elected officials  will work to find alternate ways to stop outside landlords from developing near NU’s campus. One approach could come from a zoning law perspective, Braithwaite said, or from property standard laws.

“There isn’t enough rental housing near the University that doesn’t pit student households against non-student households,” Loellbach said. “If the community doesn’t want there to be a market for the single family homes near the University to be converted to student housing, we need to figure out an alternative — not just shut things down.”

Email: [email protected] and [email protected] 

Twitter: @JorjaSiemons and @ilana_arougheti

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