Category: Urban Planning

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

A subject matter hearing will be on June 11, 2024, at 10 AM (meeting details).

I wrote this summary of the ADU changes this proposed ordinance (SO2024-0008918, formerly 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.

Interior of a coach house in Lakeview built in 2023.
  • 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 hard 700 s.f. cap on floor area in backyard houses. (Currently coach house sizes are limited to the lesser of 60% of the rear setback or 700 .s.f)
  • It allows property owners who want to build a coach house to ask the zoning administrator to waive parking requirements for the principal building. This would allow a property owner to reduce the number of existing parking spaces, allowing a coach house to be built as an accessible unit on the ground level. Ground-level coach houses will also be cheaper to construct!
  • 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.

Why Chicago should have a rental registry

This is a publicly accessible scratchpad of what I’m thinking. As I already said, Chicago should have a rental registry, a database of dwelling units that are rented to tenants, for at least two reasons:

  1. The city can know things about the rental units, including how much they cost, where they are, and if any are vacant and could be occupied if only people knew they were available and how to get in touch with the owner. 
  2. The city can know who the owners are and contact them to issue citations or advise them, or fill out for them, emergency rental assistance during pandemics and other times of necessity.
Who owns and rents each of these buildings, and are they providing a quality apartment to their tents?

Rationale for a rental registry

  • It could improve the quality of housing by forcing renovations when tenants are not making complaints due to the potential for retaliation or eviction.
  • Chicago’s complaint-based inspection system misses a lot of life-threatening situations (Illinois Answers Project, article 1, 2023; and Illinois Answers Project, article 2, 2023)
  • Tenants should be able to know who owns the property they rent. Under the current data regime in Illinois, it’s unreasonable to expect a tenant to know how to look up this information. Of course, someone could use my Chicago Cityscape platform to look up property ownership and transfers.
  • Chicago could put bad landlords out of business (Illinois Answers Project, 2021).

What do you think forms the basis for Chicago to have a rental registry?

How many more homes does Chicagoland need and is it 120,383?

Up For Growth, a national “moar housing” research group, publishes an annual report about underproduction of housing in 193 regions, including Chicagoland. In their 2023 report they found that there’s an underproduction of 120,383 homes in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI metropolitan statistical area.

This graphic shows how U4G derived that figure of missing homes.

Housing underproduction as a narrative formula:

((existing households + missing households) * 1.05 [1]) - (total housing units + second/vacation homes + uninhabitable units) = underproduction

[1] means a 5% target vacancy rate

The novel metric here is “missing households”, which are households that haven’t formed due to a lack of housing. The report’s definition:

Missing Households. Households that may not have formed due to lack of availability and affordability, e.g. households with children over 18 years of age still living with their parents or individuals or couples living together as roommates at levels exceeding historical norms.

In the Chicago region, 120,383 homes represents 3.1 percent of the housing stock in 2021, meaning we need to grow the number of homes in Chicagoland by 3.1 percent to accommodate these emerging families, graduating students, roommates, and doubled-up tenants. The necessary expansion of housing is greater than 3.1 percent, however, to accommodate migration and homes no longer in the market due to various forms of vacancy.

We also need more housing to help prices flatten or go down, and reduce the number of households that are cost-burdened. Among the top 10 cities with the most housing underproduction, Chicago has the lowest share of households which are cost-burdened, at 46.0 percent.

It’s (again) time to submit a “witness slip” in favor of the Illinois ADU bill

The ADU legalization bill that I discussed last month in a post about State Rep. Kam Buckner’s three statewide land use reforms has been assigned a committee and hearing date and time. This means individuals can submit witness slips in favor of allowing “accessory dwelling units” up and down the state.

The Cities & Villages Committee will meet on Tuesday, April 2, at 4 PM, which is also the deadline to submit a witness slip (instructions below).

How to submit a witness slip for ADUs

The deadline is 3/12/24 at 4 PM.

  1. First, open up the ILGA’s Witness Slip webpage for HB4213.
  2. In the witness slip form, fill out your name, address, and city.
  3. In the “Firm/Business Or Agency” field, enter “self” or the name of an organization you’re representing.
  4. In the “Title” field, enter “self” or your title in the organization you’re representing.
  5. Enter your email and phone number.
  6. In the “Representation” field, enter “self” or the name of the organization you’re representing.
  7. In the “Position” section select the “Proponent” radio button.
  8. In the “Testimony” section tick the “Record of Appearance Only” checkbox.
  9. Tick the “I agree” checkbox
  10. Finally, select the “Create Slip” button and you’re done!

Submitting a witness slip is an easy thing to do from home. If you’d like to elevate your advocacy for housing options in Illinois, email or call your state legislator, and join Urban Environmentalists of Illinois to learn about getting even more involved.

Letter to the editor: Legalize housing abundance across Illinois

My letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun-Times was published on February 26, 2024.

State Rep. Kam Buckner of Chicago has introduced another land use bill that Illinoisans should support. The bill provides that municipalities with a population of 100,000 or more should allow property owners to have more than one home on a lot. This forward-thinking legislation represents a significant step toward addressing the pressing housing challenges facing our communities and would foster more inclusive and sustainable urban development.

The shortage of affordable housing in Illinois for middle-class families, particularly in the Chicago area, has reached a critical point. New housing in places with access to jobs, opportunities and amenities has not kept up with demand.

Buckner’s bill acknowledges the need for innovative solutions to tackle this issue head-on. By lifting the ban on multifamily housing options in residential zones, the legislation promotes diversity in housing types, catering to the needs of our population.

I believe cities that don’t allow enough housing should not be able to push people to remote areas that have cheaper housing and less access to the things that make our cities great. This sprawl has devastating effects on our agricultural land and natural open space, ultimately increasing the tax burden on municipalities by extending and maintaining utilities to far-flung, lower-density areas.

More often than not, residents of sprawling development have higher transportation costs, according to research by the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

In Houston, America’s fourth-largest city with a lot of sprawling development and limited alternatives to driving, 34.4% of households pay 45% or more of their income just for housing and transportation. In Chicago, on the other hand, only 27.5% of households pay 45% or more of their income on housing and transportation.

Multifamily housing— which could be as little as two homes on a lot — not only provides more affordable options but also promotes a more efficient use of space and resources. By fostering mixed-use development, it’s easier to create and sustain neighborhoods with vibrant retail in walking distance.

map of the zoning districts in Naperville, symbolized in three categories (multifamily housing allowed, multifamily disallowed in a residential zoning district, and all other zoning districts)
Map of the zoning districts in Naperville, not shown in the Chicago Sun-Times posting. Three categories are symbolized: multifamily housing allowed, multifamily disallowed in a residential zoning district, and all other zoning districts.

Our legislators should recognize the positive impact that allowing multifamily housing can have on affordability, community development and overall urban sustainability. It’s time to embrace progressive measures that will shape a more equitable and prosperous future in Illinois.

Steven Vance, urban planner, South Loop