Evanston group for fair zoning launches community outreach initiative


Daily file illustration by Olivia Abeyta

The group seeks to make recommendations to Evanston’s city council about how to improve its zoning laws.

Simon Carr, Reporter

Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, a local coalition working toward equitable zoning, is launching community outreach — hoping to contribute to larger city plans to increase affordable housing. 

The group is currently investigating the impact of Evanston’s zoning laws on affordable housing access. According to recent research, Evanston zoning laws have historically perpetuated racial inequities and lowered affordable housing access.

The coalition, run by non-profit organization Connections for the Homeless, will distribute surveys and establish public focus groups as the second part of the city’s zoning plan. Earlier this year, the group commissioned Cincinnati-based consulting firm ZoneCo to research discrimination in Evanston’s zoning laws. 

The Equitable Zoning Project is also run by Connections and has partner organizations including Evanston Latinos, Evanston Cradle to Career’s Advocates for Action and the Evanston/North Shore NAACP.

Evanston has hosted a series of data walks in the past month that publicly evaluate, discuss and raise awareness about the legacy of the city’s housing injustices. 

At the Oct. 13 walk, the city presented data demonstrating that in areas like the 5th Ward around 50% of residents face an “excessive housing cost.” This means a household spends at least 30% of its income on housing. Those same neighborhoods, most of which were created by redlining, also have significantly lower life expectancies, according to the presentation. 

Sue Loellbach, manager of advocacy at Connections for the Homeless, said the project is central to Connections’ goal of ending homelessness.

“The goal is to look at how zoning and land use in Evanston has impacted people of different races, different income levels and different abilities,” Loellbach said, “and to really try to evaluate where the zoning code is creating inequities, perpetuating segregation and making it harder to create more affordable housing.”

Interim Executive Director of Advocates for Action Sheila Merry said her organization has also hosted several events to gauge Evanston residents’ top concerns.

“Affordable housing is always the number-one issue,” Merry said.

Willie Shaw, who chairs several committees for the Evanston/North Shore NAACP, said the response from residents has been “fantastic.”

Shaw said the NAACP has committed more than 30 people to a focus group and is expecting many more of its 500 members to complete the survey. The group will advertise the project through several avenues, including churches, radio stations, food pantries and sororities.

According to Shaw, the NAACP will also include former Evanston residents in the focus groups to determine whether zoning policy or access to affordable housing drove their decision to leave.

Loellbach said the project is also considering a focus group for Northwestern students, since they experience the effects of Evanston zoning laws as well.

Once the commission is finished gathering information, Loellbach said members will write a report for City Council, tentatively scheduled for presentation at the end of the year.

However, Evanston won’t feel any tangible effects of the report until the city creates its next comprehensive plan for building development. 

The city’s last comprehensive plans were released in 2000 and 1972, respectively, though the city’s website states the plan should be updated every 10 to 15 years. Loellbach said the city is still in the process of finding a vendor to help draft this next report.

Although the report is still in the beginning stages, Loellbach said the project and its partners are optimistic that the outreach will lead to real progress in Evanston.

“It’s going to be a busy couple of months, but we’re very excited about it,” Loellbach said.

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Twitter: @AlbergaSimon

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