Category: Information

What the proposed MMA Act is offering land use policy

State legislators introduced HB5823, or the Metropolitan Mobility Authority Act, to consolidate the Regional Transportation Authority and the three “service boards” it oversees (CTA, Metra, and Pace).

Read more about the proposed legislation on WTTW (in which I make an appearance to describe that benefits may take years to materialized, but that I think the juice is going to be worth the squeeze).

I’ve summarized the five sections of the proposed act that could change land use policies in Chicagoland.

Section 4.01. Powers

Of the 12 powers granted to the MMA, number 11 states that the authority “may…develop or participate in residential and commercial development on and in the vicinity of public transportation stations and routes to facilitate transit-supportive land uses, increase public transportation ridership, generate revenue, and improve access to jobs and other opportunities in the metropolitan region by public transportation”.

This will be important as the other sections described below are dependent on the authority having that power.

Section 4.27. Transit-Supportive Development Incentive Program

The goal here would be to promote and fund mixed-use development that increases transit ridership. An account would be created into which the state could deposit funds as appropriated. The MMA could:

  • invest in “transit-supportive development” – residential and commercial as defined in 4.27(1) – on transit agency property, or in the vicinity of transit agency property
  • “providing resources for increased public transportation service in and around transit-supportive residential and commercial developments, especially newly created transit-supportive developments” – this would be a new feature and could mitigate concerns that the transit service levels around a proposed TSD aren’t sufficient to make the development material “transit-supportive” (example below).
  • “grants to local governments to help cover the cost of drafting and implementing land use, parking, and other laws that are intended to encourage and will reasonably have the effect of allowing or supporting transit-supportive residential and commercial development;” – this is something that the current Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) already do.

Example of providing resources for increased transit around TSDs

Say that you’re a developer proposing a multi-family apartment building next to the Lemont, Illinois, Metra station. Part of the proposal is provide transit passes in lieu of any car parking (because of the massive cost associated with building parking according to Lemont’s mandates), and because Lemont’s walkable downtown offers most services for people, especially those commuting to Chicago or might have groceries delivered.

Part of downtown Lemont, Illinois

The village board is weary, though, and says that there’s not enough transit service for them to support your proposal (this is a real thing that city council members and even zoning review staff in Chicago say). They could be right; there is no Metra service on weekends and the only Pace bus route is 755, to downtown Chicago. This could limit tenants’ ability to travel to reach services and friends in other towns.

The MMA staff, however, recognize the transit-generating aspects of this proposed development and proffer funds from the TSD account to add Metra weekend service and a bus route over the Illinois and Michigan Canal to the big shopping centers in Bolingbrook.

Section 5.07. Strategic Plan

The MMA Act stipulates that the authority has to create and update a strategic plan every five years. The current RTA already does this, but the Chicago Transit Authority does not and is not required to; the RTA’s strategic plan does not direct CTA’s actions.

In this future strategic plan, the MMA must consider land use policies, specifically:

land use policies, practices, and incentives that will make more effective use of public transportation services and facilities as community assets and encourage the siting of businesses, homes, and public facilities near public transportation services and facilities to provide convenient and affordable travel for residents, customers, and employees in the metropolitan region;

Section 7.03. Establishment of the Office of Transit-Oriented Development and Transit-Supportive Development Fund

The MMA Act would create an Office of Transit-Oriented Development within the Metropolitan Mobility Authority to administer the TSD Fund, including issuing loans in support of transit-supportive developments and offering technical assistance.

Section 7.04. Transit support overlay districts

This section says that CMAP, the “metropolitan planning organization” for Northeastern Illinois, “shall develop standards for a transit support overlay district for that urban area, which may include, but are not limited to, transit-supportive allowable uses and densities, restriction of auto-oriented uses, removal of parking requirements, site planning standards that support walkability, sidewalk network connectivity and local funding commitments for sidewalks in compliance with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, and streetscape features that encourage transit use.”

The purpose of this section is to direct Transit Supportive Development funding is going only to developments within an adopted local “transit support overlay district”.

Such a district also gives a municipality standing to request an increase in the transit service standards delivered in their area; see section 5.11(f). (The authority would study the request and if the municipality or other source can provide funding then the service would have to be provided.)

It appears that the goal with this is to ensure that CMAP, the region’s state and federally-designated office to develop a regional plan, is assisting the MMA, different departments of transportation, the Illinois Tollway, and municipalities in the execution of the regional plan’s strategies (currently called “ON TO 2050”).

Not present: preemption authority

To jumpstart a housing construction agenda, the Illinois General Assembly could give the Metropolitan Mobility Authority its own municipal power to allow it to develop multifamily housing and other transit-supportive development without being subject to local zoning limitations.

Combined with such land use authority the MMA – through a modified version of this bill – could also be funded in part by having it collect property tax revenue through “value capture”, where the MMA receives the property tax increment between pre-development and post-development property values.

If you’re familiar with the MTR in Hong Kong or Japanese railway companies, train transit in those two countries is funded by the mixed-use developments (or leases) that occurs on land around or above the stations that are owned by those companies.

Ald. Lawson re-introduces ordinance to jumpstart sagging ADU program

I wrote this summary of the ADU changes this proposed ordinance (O2023-2075) would implement (with my commentary in parentheses).

Before you read on, though, please sign the Urban Environmentalists Illinois petition to show your support for allowing ADUs citywide.

  • It allows ADUs citywide (this is the most important change to speed up adoption)
  • Expands to B and C1, C2 zoning districts (this is important because there are thousands of residential-only properties that are incorrectly zoned in B and C districts which don’t allow ADUs)
  • It also allows ground floor commercial conversions but only if 40% of more of the property length is commercial space.
  • It allows a property owner to have both an interior ADU and a backyard house ADU (currently you can have one or more interior ADUs or a backyard house)
  • It removes the 700 s.f. cap on floor area in backyard houses.
  • It allows property owners who want to build a coach house to ask the zoning administrator to waive parking requirements for the principal building. 
  • It would require a special use from the ZBA to establish an ADU in RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts. These are much less common than the other R zoning districts and 0 ADUs have been permitted in those districts since May 1, 2021. 
  • It allows the property owner OR the city to notify the alder of a proposed ADU permit application. 
  • It eliminates the need for the property owner to notify their two adjacent neighbors. 
  • It doesn’t change the affordability requirements when proposing to build 2 or more interior ADUs. 
  • It eliminates the restrictions in the 3 southern limit areas that limited the number of ADU permits per block per year (this restriction ended up having no effect due to little demand in those areas). 
  • It eliminates the requirement that to build a coach house at a 1-3 unit house it had to be owner occupied (only in the 3 southern pilot areas, again this restriction ended up having no effect due to little demand in those areas). 

The changes would take effect 120 days after passage. It’s no guarantee that all of these will remain in the final version!

The ADU program in Chicago needs this. As I pointed out in my comment to the Chicago City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards, the number of ADU permits has been declining since December 2022.

Show expansion of transit networks over the decades using Transit Explorer

Yonah Freemark just launched the biggest expansion of transit network mapping on Transit Explorer and I built a new feature for TE that allows users to visualize the size of a network by decade from 1970 to today.

When looking at a region of the world, change the era of transit network that you’re seeing by selecting a decade from the dropdown menu under the “Change the era” heading. In a moment, the map will automatically refresh.

I’ll show you three cities:

  • Salt Lake City
  • Hong Kong
  • São Paulo

Salt Lake City

The Utah Transit Authority opened its first modern light rail line in 1999 from Salt Lake City to the southern suburb of Sandy. It opened the second line, from downtown Salt Lake City to the University of Utah, in 2001, in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Some games and ceremonies were held at the university. FrontRunner commuter rail opened in 2008, and the third light rail line, to the airport, opened in 2011 and various line extensions opened in 2013. A BRT route that opened in 2018 in Provo is also mapped but not shown while a BRT route in Salt Lake City is shown under construction in 2024.

View Salt Lake City on Transit Explorer

Hong Kong

In 1970, the only rail transit that Hong Kong had were a tramway on Hong Kong Island and the East Rail Line, which opened in 1910 and was electrified in 1983. Every decade since there was a new line or two on the Hong Kong MTR network, culminating in the ten lines you see in 2024.

View Hong Kong on Transit Explorer

São Paulo

In 1970, São Paulo’s metropolitan network, Metrô, didn’t exist, but it had six regional train lines operated by three railroads – these kinds of trains are shown in brown on Transit Explorer. The metro, shown in blue, began in 1974, and now has six lines (including one monorail line) while the regional train network was modified to five lines. São Paulo saw its first bus rapid transit (BRT) line added in 1988, but added four more BRT lines since then – just five of the over 900 bus routes operated by EMTU.

View São Paulo on Transit Explorer

How much vacant housing is there in Chicago?

How many houses, buildings, units, and lots are vacant in Chicago depends on how you measure them. I’m aware of at least five ways to measure housing vacancy, using publicly available data, each with varying degrees of accuracy and coverage.

Each measurement method has its own TAKEAWAY so you can quickly scan to see how many units are potentially vacant. The bottom line, I believe, is that the vacancy rate in Chicago is quite low and vacant units is not a viable and scalable source for the additional housing that Chicago needs. However, I am compelled to add that it’s unclear how many additional homes Chicago needs because there are no analyses that uncover the shortfall or recommend a goal production number.

1. Vacant units, per Census bureau

The US Census Bureau says there are 1,258,704 dwelling units in Chicago, and that 10.2% of them are vacant (128,796 units). The Census bureau has two types of vacant, which generally break down into “listed for rent or for sale and temporarily unoccupied” and “all other reasons”. This data comes from American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year survey.

The Census says 37.3% of Chicago’s vacant units are “temporarily unoccupied” (38,450 units) and 62.7% are vacant for “other reasons” (64,589 units). This data comes from ACS 1-year data, which has larger margins of error than the 5-year survey data. The “other reasons” are what I am calling “truly vacant”.

The most common survey response within “other reasons” is that the unit is currently being renovated or repaired (20.2%). Additional top “other reasons” are:

  • Currently being renovated/repaired: 20.2%
  • Personal/family reasons: 15.6%
  • Needs repairs: 14.6%
  • Preparing to rent/sell: 13.1%
  • Abandoned/possibly condemned: 10.1%

Up For Growth, a national policy organization, has assessed that Chicagoland has an underproduction of 129,218 homes (using 2019 data), and about 3.3 percent of the existing housing stock in the region. Assuming that 80 percent of this underproduction is “assigned” to the City of Chicago, then this underproduction represents about 1.6 times the number of vacant units (vacant for any reason in the Census Bureau’s survey) that likely exist in Chicago.

TAKEAWAY from #1: Fewer than all 64,589 units are “truly” vacant, however. About 21,508 of those units are purportedly being renovated or repaired and will be rented or sold soon.

A large number of the remaining 43,081 “truly” vacant units are unlikely to join the rental or sale market soon. Assuming that all of these 43,081 vacant units are rented or sold then Chicago, using that 80 percent assignment of the 129,218 underproduction, would still have an underproduction of 60,294 homes.

2. Vacant units, per Chicago’s Vacant Building Registry

From a February 2023 snapshot of the Chicago Vacant Building Registry, which requires landlords to register buildings as vacant once they are vacant for more than 30 days, there were 6,521 dwelling units that were reported by owners as vacant. Comparing this to the above Census bureau figure that nearly 65,000 units are truly vacant, this would mean that 90% of vacant units are not registered in the VBR. 

The reasons for vacancy were not included in the VBR data I received from the city. Also, these units are likely already included in the Census figure above and not in addition to.

TAKEAWAY from #2: There are at least 6,500 vacant dwelling units in Chicago. 

3. Buildings reported as vacant to 311

Chicagoans can report to 311 that they suspect a building to be vacant. There is no link to building violation citations or feedback on these reports as to whether the suspicion was founded by a city worker.

Notice how the number of reports dropped by about half from 2022 to 2023. I don’t know if there are fewer suspected buildings to be reported, fewer people are reporting buildings, or there are barriers to reporting and collecting the reports.

TAKEAWAY from #3: This data is probably not reliable to understand the number of vacant buildings in Chicago.

4. Buildings cited as needing to be registered in the Vacant Building Registry

In 2023, Chicago Department of Buildings inspectors cited 24 buildings with a violation for not being registered in the Vacant Building Registry.

TAKEAWAY from #4: If about 90% of vacant units are not registered then there are drastically few citations being issued to force registration.

5. Vacant lots, per Cook County Assessor Office

The CCAO classifies nearly every property in Cook County. The classification 1-00 represents vacant lots. At present there are 32,207 vacant lots in Chicago. 22,645 of these (70.3%) are in “R” zoning districts and allow only residential uses. Another 4,566 lots (14.2%) are in “B” and “C” neighborhood mixed-use zoning districts. 

TAKEAWAY from #5: Tens of thousands of new construction homes could be built on vacant lots.

Addendum: In its Chicago monthly market update for the multifamily housing sector, Colliers brokerage reported that the Chicago MSA “has a vacancy rate of 5.3%, which is below the national rate of 7.6%”.

Illinois updates its affordable housing enforcement statute to take effect in 2026

Illinois has a statute that requires every covered municipality to have an affordable housing stock of 10 percent relative to its total housing stock. The Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act exempts only municipalities with population of under 1,000, and those “in which at least 10% of its total year-round housing units are affordable, as determined by the Illinois Housing Development Authority”.

IHDA updates a list of non-exempt municipalities – those not achieving the 10 percent standard – every five years, which it last did in December 2023 (the list).

List of 44 non-exempt municipalities ordered by lowest percentage of housing stock which is affordable.

Glenview is one of the non-exempt municipalities and this year has “had trouble” approving new housing. Although neither proposed development included affordable housing, to my knowledge, the developer of one proposal said that the project rents would be less than the median; my guess is that most rentals in Glenview are not other apartments but whole houses.

I’ve been keeping a list, on Twitter, of other municipalities that have “had trouble” approving new housing.

One of the updates in the AHPAA adopted in 2023 is that the definition of who can appeal a municipality’s rejection of a proposed affordable housing development has been expanded to, basically, include someone who could have lived in the development if it was built.

The revised definition for appellants also includes housing advocacy organizations that have an overlapping geographic focus. This new appellant definition takes effect on January 1, 2026.

IHDA’s FAQ answer to who is an appellant and can appeal a rejected affordable housing development proposal.

If you know of an Illinois municipality that has voted to reject an affordable housing development, or has through some kind of delay or inaction effectively rejected an affordable housing development, please let me know!