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Chicago’s Accessory Dwelling Units Plan Will Start May 1

Affordable housing opportunities in the Windy City should get a boost on May 1st when the Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) ordinance pilot program goes into effect in five Chicago target areas.

The ordinance, pushed by Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and approved by the City Council in December, allows construction of additional housing units in coach houses, basement and attic apartments. The gerrymandered pilot zones include parts of Lake View, North Center, Lincoln Square, Uptown, Edgewater and West Ridge neighborhoods.

The ADU ordinance essentially repeals Chicago’s 63-year ban on illegal over-the-garage coach houses, or “carriage houses,” so-called basement “garden” apartments and attic units, allows owners to add moderate-cost rental units in those spaces under the three-year limited pilot program.

“It is exciting and encouraging that the City has finally come around to the idea that accessory units can be beneficial to Chicago,” said Michael Glasser, president of the Rogers Park Builders Group (RPBG).

“The ordinance will increase the supply of housing in neighborhoods across the city at a far lower cost than equivalent new-construction units, and at rents that are almost always less than adjacent units in the primary residential building,” Glasser said.

Under the ADU ordinance, if units are added to an existing apartment building, a percentage of the new residences must include rent restrictions to make them affordable.

However, the RPBG also believes the affordable housing pilot program is too restrictive, especially to owners who have the space to build two or more conversion units.

The new ordinance requires that 50% of the newly created units be restricted to households earning no more than 60% of area median income (AMI). That’s $54,600 per year for a family of four.

“These restrictions must be recorded and enforced for a minimum period of 30-years,” Glasser said. “This three-decade restriction is unprecedented and completely outrageous.”

A 1957 rewrite of the Chicago building and zoning codes “grandfathered” such existing dwelling units built prior to 1948 due to the after-effects of the 1930s Great Depression and the severe post World-War II 1940s housing shortages.

Since then, thousands of existing, but officially unauthorized apartments, were affordably rented in ethnic and gentrified neighborhoods alike.

After the war, some North Side three-flats were split into six rental apartments often with a seventh unit in the basement, and that was legal. These small, 500-square-foot apartments rented for as little as $20 a month, and included shared bathrooms, ingress and egress. Of course, most blue-collar tenants were earning $50 a week during that era, but those apartments were truly affordable housing by today’s standards.

The 1957 ban on construction of accessory housing units was a “not-so-subtle reaction to the rapid demographic change that was occurring in Chicago,” Glasser said. “The ban was enacted as a rapidly expanding African-American population was moving into previously all-white neighborhoods. The ban was a bad idea then, and it remains a bad idea today.”

Here are details on the city’s gerrymandered map covering neighborhood pilot zones allowing affordable accessory units under the ordinance:

  • North Side. The zone covers parts of the Lake View, North Center, Lincoln Square, Uptown, Edgewater and West Ridge neighborhood. Rough boundaries of the district run from Halsted Street, north of Diversey and Belmont, and Lake Michigan north of Lawrence, up to Devon, and west to the North Shore Channel. The North Side target area includes most of the 40th, 44th, 46th, 47th and 48th Wards, and part of the 32nd Ward.

  • Northwest Side. This narrow, gerrymandered district west of the North Shore Channel covers sections of West Town, Logan Square, Hermosa, Avondale, Albany Park and Irving Park. It also includes parts of the Near West Side and East Garfield Park neighborhoods.

  • West Side. The Far West Side district covers parts of East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park, North Lawndale and South Lawndale neighborhoods.

  • South Side. This expansive district covers parts of Ashburn, Auburn Gresham, West Lawn, Chicago Lawn, Washington Heights, Roseland, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Englewood, West Englewood, Washington Park and Woodlawn neighborhoods.

  • Southeast Side. The district covers parts of South Chicago, East Side, South Deering and Hegewisch neighborhoods.

Every new accessory living unit would have to meet requirements of the current Chicago Building Code, contain at least two exits, have a kitchen and bathroom along with proper air ventilation and heating.

Also, accessory living units cannot be rented on AirBnB or other “vacation home” platforms unless they have city approval. In the West, South and Southeast zones, the city placed a limit of two ADU permits per city block per year.

The City Dept. of Housing’s Low-Income Housing Trust Fund also will be empowered to offer vouchers and establish grant programs to assist low- and moderate-income renters who occupy the new affordable units.

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit


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Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

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