Interim Community Development Director Sarah Flax is quite accurate when she says “the city staff did not find any community or municipality with regulations exactly like the proposed [Shared Housing Provider License] ordinance.”
That’s because no other city has been so irresponsible to adopt such an incredibly inadequate and ill-conceived ordinance to license the providers of a wide variety of disparate uses imprudently lumped together under the rubric “shared housing.”
And it’s because this proposed Evanston ordinance lacks so many elements essential for a competent licensing ordinance.
As written the ordinance that goes to a vote on Feb. 27 is filled with potholes deep enough to swallow a tractor trailer.
And that’s the point that nearly everybody on the City Council – except Council Member Clare Kelly (1st Ward,) seems to be missing: The proposed Shared Housing Provider License Ordinance is grossly inadequate.
As a professional city planner of 50 years and zoning/fair housing attorney, I’ve collaborated with local city legal staff on licensing ordinances for Dallas, Texas, and Prescott, Arizona, that regulate some of the uses covered by the proposed Evanston Shared Housing Provider ordinance. If you look at those ordinances, you’ll see how inadequate and ill-conceived the proposed Evanston ordinance is.
The proposed Evanston ordinance is missing such key elements that belong in nearly every licensing ordinance for housing providers:
- Provide clear and thorough definitions of the use(s) the ordinance covers (but such ordinances should cover only very similar uses, not the plethora of very different uses proposed in Evanston.)
- Specify minimal staffing requirements including qualifications and training.
- Spell out in detail what the license application includes.
- Specify standards for issuing a license.
- Specify standards and procedures for suspending and terminating the license.
- Specifiy operating standards.
- Specify how to report violations.
- List exactly what actions violate the ordinance and the penalties for violations.
Those basic elements are missing in action from the proposed Evanston Shared Housing Provider ordinance.
But they are critical components of a housing provider license needed to protect the residents of the different uses the city is imprudently calling “shared housing” from exploitative and abusive operators (and there are plenty of them out there); to assure proper and safe operations; and to establish a fair, consistent and legal process for issuing and repealing the license. Instead of including these essential elements in the ordinance, the city routinely enters into individual operational agreements with housing providers.
I’ve seen the agreement proposed for the Margarita Inn and it is frighteningly inadequate. Not only does it lack the applicable essential elements listed here (necessary in the absence of a licensing ordinance that includes those provisions), it doesn’t even establish a time frame for the agreement or provisions to terminate the agreement.
I didn’t see anything in the agreement to protect the residents of the Margarita Inn from abuse or poor management.
I cannot fathom how any city can classify, for example, dormitories, hotels, transitional treatment facilities and homeless shelters under the same license.
These are very different uses and licensing of their providers needs to be narrowly tailored to each type of use. Frankly, if the operator already has a license from the State of Illinois, there is no need for a redundant local license.
In some instances, also requiring a local license could violate the nation’s Fair Housing Act.
And I was stunned to see the misdirection in the staff memo which devotes a full page talking about the “trend” toward co-housing, asserting that “[c]ohousing initiatives are a newer trend for the Chicagoland area.”
How do the two efforts to establish co-housing in Illinois upon which the memo reports constitute a “trend?” And why in heaven’s name would any city require a license for co-housing? It’s not remotely like a dormitory, hotel or transitional shelter like the proposed Margarita Inn. (I’m agnostic on whether the zoning application for the Margarita Inn should be granted – I haven’t heard the testimony or read the application.)
As a former 17-year resident of Evanston (a city I still adore), I am deeply troubled by this inexplicably tortured and imprudent approach the city is taking.
Evanston residents deserve far better than this painfully haphazard and irresponsible approach to licensing the operators of these very different uses.
Licensing is a very legitimate government interest to protect occupants from potentially incompetent and abusive housing providers – and this ordinance doesn’t even come close to providing those protections.
And I am doubly troubled if any city council member who has received a financial benefit from any organization that would be regulated under the proposed Shared Housing Provider License ordinance does not recuse himself from even discussing this ordinance, much less from voting on it or advocating for its passage.
That would simply be a blatantly unethical conflict of interest. If such council members exist, they should leave the council chambers when this ordinance appears on the agenda and return only after the agenda item is concluded.
Any city that practices good government would reject this proposed “Shared Housing Licensing” ordinance and replace it with a rational, responsible set of ordinances each tailor-made for the providers of the very different uses that are currently, and improperly, clumped together as “shared housing.”
The Evanston I’ve known and love deserves far better than the ordinance that’s been proposed.
Once again, Clare Kelly seems to be the only Council member asking good questions.
It seems obvious that this is getting rushed on behalf of the Margarita. I am not an expert so I can’t say if this is a good thing or a bad thing for them, but the timing is pretty clear.
But I’m very curious/concerned about the bad unforeseen consequences of this outside of the Margarita. This city has fought so hard against Air B&Bs, shared student houses, etc. so there must be a reason for that, right?
What would this shared housing ordinance allow people to get away with? Unlimited Air B&Bs with no restrictions? A brothel? An exploitative TikTok teen talent farm like they have in China? Student frats and sororities all over town? (I don’t think any of those would actually happen here, I’m exaggerating.)
From a city who has fought against so many kinds of shared housing in the past, this seems weirdly reckless. I’d like to hear more from an experienced person, like the author of this article.
Thank you for sharing your expertise, Mr. Lauber. The City needs to have enforceable and thoroughly researched rules and protections in place for every person living here.
Any Council members with a conflict of interest should remove themselves from discussions and voting.
Thank you, Mr. Lauber, for being a voice of reason and sanity in this whole licensing farrago. Sadly, many in our city government have let their emotions override – especially concerning the Margarita Inn issues – the impartial due diligence that should be de rigueur in this whole complicated and lengthy process…
Any “shortcuts” in this process can only lead to eventual chaos down the road – and this “chaos” will affect of *all* us citizens…
Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident