Special Edition | Tales From the Front Line | August 24, 2020
August 24, 2020
MARY LUDGIN | Heitman LLC Immediate Past Chair | ULI Chicago & ULI Trustee
Amidst the sorrows and travails of this pandemic, I have had the pleasure of watching a scaled-down version of our house rise in our backyard. Serial renovators, my husband and I have been fixing this and that on our old house for 21 years. Turning the basement into livable space involved digging down 18 inches to create the clear height required by the Village of Oak Park. To get the Bobcat excavator into the basement, our contractor cut through the back wall of our garage to create an opening wide enough to get that machine in and out. With that, the fate of the garage was sealed. It would come down at some point. What to replace it with? We started with the idea of an office for me, for those days when I’d work from home (back when that was an occasional treat) in recognition that “pretend I’m not here” wasn’t always successful in keeping the kids at bay. Once Oak Park made provision of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) legal in 2018 during a rewrite of the Village’s zoning ordinance, the plan morphed into a coach house, with working space and living space. A cozy suite under the shade of an oak tree as old as our house for visiting relatives! A place for a boomerang adult child! An expansion of more affordable housing options in a land-locked municipality!
During my time as Chair of ULI Chicago and in my current role on the board of ULI’s Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance, ADUs have been a regular topic, emanating out of the Institute’s work in Chicago and around the country on how to shore up and expand housing affordability for a range of income levels. ULI Chicago’s report on this topic, Unlocking Accessory Dwelling Units in Chicagomakes the case for these spaces that are hiding in plain sight – the unused basement in a two- or four-flat, the replacement for a rickety garage. I have seen such conversions within century-old residential buildings along canals in the Netherlands and narrow lanes in Germany’s major cities, transforming attics into apartments in settings where land is scarce and the rental inventory chronically under supplied. Why not in Chicago?
ADUs offer a market-driven solution for adding new housing units at a lower cost than typical new construction units. Indeed, they have been part of Chicago’s built environment for decades. While ADUs are not a silver bullet, they can increase housing choice and stability and foster more diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. Legalizing ADUs again and making it easier to build them throughout Chicago is a smart thing to do and we are excited that the Chicago City Council is considering an ordinance to do just that.
ULI Chicago recently published recommendations for a successful, equitable ADU policy for Chicago asthe culmination of a year-long ADU Initiative that engaged over a hundred community and industry stakeholders and City officials. The ADU ordinance, as introduced, follows many of ULI Chicago’s recommendations. We had the opportunity to express support for the ordinance at the Joint Hearing of the Housing and Zoning Committees.
While the date is not yet set, we expect a vote on the ordinance to take place in September. If you think that ADUs can be an effective tool in Chicago’s housing and neighborhood stability toolbox, we encourage you to get informed and get engaged in the conversation!
Would you like to participate in technical assistance programs to make ADUs more attainable for middle- and lower-income households?
Key Features of the Introduced ADU Ordinance:
Allows ADUs in all residential zones. As-of-right in RS3 and above; special use requiring aldermanic approval for RS1 and RS2.
Allows both attached ADUs (basement and attic units) and detached ADUs (backyard homes)
Does not require off-street parking for these additional unit
Short-term rentals are not allowed
No added requirements for owners of single-family or 2-4 flats
When more than one ADU is created in larger buildings, 50% of ADUs must be rented at 60% of AMI for 30 years
The proposed ADU ordinance is a strong step in the right direction but there is potential for enhancement based on ULI Chicago’s ADU Report:
Allow ADUs as-of-right in RS1 and RS2 zones. The additional cost and complexity associated with obtaining a special use permit could effectively shut-out property owners in RS1 and RS2 zones from building ADUs. This leaves out 25% of all residential parcels in the City, including areas that need investment in south and west side neighborhoods
Streamline permit approval process and timeline
In addition to the ADU ordinance, establish programmatic and financial supports including:
Technical assistance. Access to community organizations who can guide interested property owners and connect them with resources such as guidebooks, model plans and qualified professionals.
Financial assistance. Access to ADU-friendly loan products to reduce reliance on personal wealth; reduced fees, grants, and low-cost loans to offset ADU costs based on income-eligibility. Additionally, subsidies such as rental assistance vouchers to support deeper affordability.
Please email us to learn more and get involved in the opportunity to legalize and promote ADUs in Chicago!