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The Evanston Equity and Empowerment Commission is in the early stages of formulating what are likely to be a series of proposals that commission members said will protect the city’s most vulnerable residents against the gentrification of their neighborhoods.

Evanston has not been exempt from a nationwide red-hot housing market and some homeowners have been receiving unsolicited phone calls from buyers seeking to purchase their houses.

Homeowners – and often the individuals calling them – usually don’t know that the phone calls constitute a predatory commercial practice, said commission Chair Karla Thomas at the group’s April 28 meeting.

Callers, she explained, usually “have more knowledge of the market and [appropriate] price” than the homeowner.

Thomas noted that many Fifth Ward residents have been contacted by buyers since a new school was approved to be built there.

“Most [callers] think that they are being proactive and are not aware of the predatory element” of the call, she said.

The first proposal the commission will investigate is based on a 2019 measure passed by the Chicago City Council fining developers who use harassment to goad homeowners into a quick sale.

Commissioner Darlene Cannon gave a presentation about the law and her discussions with Chicago City Council Member Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th Ward, who has been working to combat gentrification in the Pilsen neighborhood and areas near the 606 trail.

Cannon acknowledged that adopting the measure in Evanston would require a number of considerations, such as defining what constitutes predatory tactics and who exactly would be in charge of investigating allegations.

People of color and economically vulnerable individuals are usually the targets of the predatory developers, Thomas said.

“Nobody’s calling the dude with the $1.6 million dollar house on the lake,” she said.

The harassment has been widespread across the country as investment companies have acquired massive real estate portfolios, a strategy tantamount to the “industrialization” of the U.S. real estate market, according to Thomas. The practice has been widely criticized for both reducing available housing stock and artificially driving up prices for legitimate home buyers.

Thomas said the anti-harassment measure would likely be just one “spoke in the wheel” of a larger package of proposals to safeguard against gentrification. Among other ideas the commission is weighing are raising the fees developers must pay in order to demolish an existing home as well as policies discouraging conversions of two- and four-flat apartment buildings into single-family homes.

Cannon said the increase in housing prices has happened alongside a decline in the Black population in the city.

“If we put some measures in place, it would be another layer of protection so they can stay here,” she added.

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