City Council creates new license to individualize requirements for shared housing


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) encourages his colleagues to vote in support of the change in licensing, and wants to focus conversation moving forward on operating agreement.

Martha Contreras, Reporter

City Council voted 8-1 Monday to create a Shared Housing Provider license in replacement of the Lodging Establishment license. 

The ordinance requires all forms of shared housing — including hotels, rooming houses, boarding houses and dorms — to obtain a license and undergo annual inspections.

The decision ends a nine-month council discussion on what kind of license the 4th Ward Margarita Inn, a Connections for the Homeless shelter, needs. The organization is trying to purchase the building but needs a permanent license and operating agreement before proceeding. 

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said the process of developing a license structure for the Margarita Inn began last May, when he realized Connections’ temporary arrangement had lasted more than two years and the organization wanted to make it permanent. 

“I’m supportive of Connections’ operating at Margarita Inn as long as we do this right,” he said. “Doing it right means that we have the appropriate structure in place at the municipal level that gives us adequate oversight and regulatory authority over the Margarita Inn.”

Nieuwsma said the new license gives the city flexibility to regulate different types of shared housing, whereas the current code is not adequate.

During public comment, several Connections board members and Evanston residents spoke in support of the organization. 

Abigail Aziza Stone, a Connections board member, said the organization housed and supported her when she needed to escape domestic violence. 

She urged the council not to impede its work further by adding more restrictions to the new license.  

“Please look at your humanity,” Stone said. 

Evanston resident Kindon Mills said Evanston policies — along with the national housing crisis — reduces the amount of available housing.

The lack of housing has the greatest impact on the city’s most vulnerable populations, she said. 

“Those who have lost their housing due to upward pricing pressures did not have a chance to say ‘not in my backyard’ to development and to the change in the economic character that destroyed their neighborhoods,” Mills said.

All council members, except Ald. Clare Kelly (1st), voted in favor of the ordinance.

Kelly raised concerns about signing individual operating agreements with each housing provider. She said the process complicates housing standardization and may treat different establishments of the same type inequitably. 

It would be “reckless” to pass the ordinance as a special order of business without more discussion, she added.

“I think we’re making a huge mistake,” Kelly said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @marthacontrerr 

Related Stories: 

City Council discussions on Margarita Inn delayed due to court ruling

Land Use Commission upholds rooming house designation for Margarita Inn, special use permit still expired

In Focus: As Connections for the Homeless looks to purchase the Margarita Inn, residents remain divided on the building’s future