Northwestern Students Rally Against Evanston 'Brothel Law'

The zoning ordinance limits roommates to three.

By Hannah Chanpong
|  Wednesday, Jan 26, 2011  |  Updated 11:15 AM CDT
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Students at Northwestern University are petitioning against an Evanston “brothel law” that might force hundreds of co-eds out of their off-campus residences this summer.

More than 400 students -- and a handful of Evanston residents -- crowded into an auditorium at Norris University Center Tuesday night for a meeting with city and school officials. The meeting was billed as an “Off-Campus Town Hall,” but students were there to talk about one specific zoning ordinance that would bar more than three people who aren't related from living together in Evanston.

About 40 percent of Northwestern undergraduates live off campus, according to Assistant Dean of Students Betsi Burns. That's about 4,000 students.

City officials will start actively enforcing the rule on July 1, even though it has been around for decades. The push comes now because Evanston residents have “run out of patience” for parties, noise and excess garbage, said Burgwell Howard, the Dean of Students at Northwestern.

“It’s been a cumulative effect,” Howard said. “Frankly, many of the people that live next door to you in that Fireman’s Park apartment have been tolerant over a decade.”

The City of Evanston inspects rental properties every two years. In addition to these routine inspections, the city also responds to specific complaints. Jeff Murphy, the division manager of Building and Inspection Services in Evanston, told students that residents have recently “grouped together” to protest student behavior.

Evanston resident Lisa Pildes, who supports enforcing the rule, said she has heard about students passing out on lawns near campus. Murphy said the city receives complaints on a weekly basis.

Senior Kristin Leasia, who is studying art history and French and lives on campus, said this is another example of students getting caught up in town-gown tension.

The university, a non-profit organization, does not pay Evanston property tax.

Other students at Tuesday's forum -- many who were outraged -- said they were concerned about the safety and affordability of living in smaller groups farther from campus.

Leasia said she fears that if students are forced to look outside of the city limits for housing, Northwestern will lose its campus feel.

The university student government posted a petition on its website shortly after the meeting. It does not call for a complete repeal of the ordinance.

"We are calling on the city council to stop the increased enforcement of the ordinance, and to amend the ordinance to reflect contemporary student needs and circumstances," reads the attached letter, written by student body president Claire Lew and other members of the organization.

The petition will be presented to the Evanston City Council and Northwestern officials. Leasia said she also plans to attend city council's next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 31.

“We need to work together,” she said.

Hannah Chanpong is a senior at Northwestern University. She has lived in both on-campus and off-campus housing.

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