Affordable Housing: Discounts, “Grandma’s Apartments” are part of Lightfoot’s housing solution


If you’ve got room for an extra house on your Chicago lot or an apartment in your basement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot thinks you should be able to add it. His administration is addressing this issue to increase the supply of affordable housing and to help long-term landlords stay put if they need rental income.

For Lightfoot Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara, these are two positive and incremental changes that should not detract from the character of the neighborhood. “We can slowly increase the density of a community without significantly changing the fabric of its built environment,” she said.

This is about legalizing the new in-laws and apartments for the in-laws – “grandmother’s apartments”, for some. Their technical name is Accessory Housing Units, or ADUs, although the Department of Housing has adopted the name of Supplementary Housing Units, seeing it as simpler.

This is the name used in a draft ordinance that Lightfoot is expected to present to city council soon. This would remove the ADU ban in place since Chicago’s 1957 rewrite of its zoning rules. Any sheds or basement and attic apartments that exist were built on the sly or predate 1957 and therefore were protected by acquired rights.

“In our opinion, this is long overdue,” Novara said of the order. “Bus houses should never have been banned in 1957. It’s a pretty archaic way of thinking about how we create units for people with varying incomes across the city. “

She stressed that the ordinance allows ADUs but does not force them on blocks where they are not wanted. “When it makes sense to people, they can use it, and where it doesn’t, they won’t. But at least we allow that option, ”she said.

The order would include rules to limit the abuse many people associate with ADUs. Sheds – structures separate from the main house – would be capped at 700 square feet. They couldn’t be used for short term rentals like Airbnb. And that would require the backyards to be preserved according to neighborhood standards. City building standards and permit rules still apply.

This would allow owners of larger apartment buildings to add basement units as long as half of these new apartments are affordable under the city ordinance. Owners of apartments of two to four would not be covered by this rule.

Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara
Hein / Sun-Times Rich File

“The legalization of additional housing units marks our latest step in expanding access to housing in Chicago communities,” Lightfoot said in a statement released by the Housing Department. “This innovative measure simultaneously creates thousands of new rental units for our families and residents, while opening up new sources of income for building owners, especially the elderly, and enhances housing security by allowing units existing ones operated in the shadows of being part of the Chicago mainstream. “

Novara said the ordinance will be subject to a joint hearing by the housing and zoning committees. Ald. Harry Osterman (48e), president of the housing commission, is a sponsor and others can be added. Asked about other Alderman feelings, Novara said, “We will see. We are in ongoing communication with people on how this might unfold in the neighborhoods they represent.

The assumption is that sheds or apartments crammed into properties will be rented at a price lower than the prevailing price in the neighborhood, making the housing stock more diverse. Novara said the change would help older residents “age in place” if they wanted help paying higher property taxes and other needs. “People who have long been owners and who are the backbone of their community – we want them to stay as long as possible,” she said.

No one is saying this is a panacea for the housing crisis. But this encourages the creation of cheaper housing that the city does not have to subsidize. Daniel Kay Hertz, director of policy at the Department of Housing, said a similar change in Los Angeles resulted in 7,000 new units over six years, most coming later in that time. “One thing that is unique about Chicago is that our housing stock has all of these basements suitable for apartments,” Hertz said.

The ordinance does not contain any parking requirement to serve the new units. Some neighborhood groups may complain about not having enough street parking, but Hertz said occupants of ADUs are more likely to be students or the elderly without a car.

The measure was drafted with the help of groups such as the Urban Land Institute Chicago, an association of real estate professionals and other fields.

Around Chicago there are thousands of ADUs. An estimate from the Chicago Cityscape blog using zoning data and surveys of built structures indicates that there are approximately 2,400 sheds in the city.

How that could change is guessable. But it is interesting that the mayor initiates the debate on a measure whose effects will not be known for years.


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